WASHINGTON: The former US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords said ''the time is now'' for Congress to take action on guns as shooting victims, lawmakers and gun rights advocates came face to face for the first time since the December 14 massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.
''Speaking is difficult, but I need to say something important,'' Ms Giffords said in a strong though halting voice at the start of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington on Wednesday. ''Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something,'' she said.
Gifford urges 'be bold' on gun control
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Gifford urges 'be bold' on gun control
Wounded former US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords tells Congress `you must act' to curb gun violence.
''It will be hard but the time is now,'' she said. ''You must act. Be bold, be courageous; Americans are counting on you.''
Ms Giffords, 42, an Arizona Democrat, was shot in the head at a constituent event in Tucson on January 8, 2011, by Jared Lee Loughner.
Congress is debating ways to curb gun violence after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 20 children and six employees.
The hearings took place as a 15-year-old girl who lived less than two kilometres from President Barack Obama's Chicago home and attended his inauguration last week was shot dead, and a gunman in Alabama boarded a school bus, shooting the driver and kidnapping a young boy.
Chicago schoolgirl Hadiya Pendleton was shot in the back and a 16-year-old boy was wounded by a gunman who sped away in a car, police said.
In Alabama, the standoff began on Tuesday afternoon, after the gunman, identified by neighbours as Jimmy Lee Dykes, boarded a school bus in the town of Midland City. Sheriff Wally Olsen said the man shot the bus driver when he refused to hand over the five-year-old.
Mr Obama backs a ban on sales of assault weapons, a proposal that faces opposition in Congress even as a majority of the public supports it.
The Senate hearing centered on the efficacy of background checks more than initiatives to limit assault weapons.
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Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Judiciary Committee chairman, led Democrats in asking gun advocates why they oppose a stronger background check to keep assault weapons out of the hands of criminals.
Wayne LaPierre, chief executive officer of the National Rifle Association, and Republicans including Senator John Cornyn of Texas countered by saying laws aren't being properly enforced.
It will be hard but the time is now ... Americans are counting on you.
''We've got to get in the real world on what works and what doesn't work,'' Mr LaPierre said.
''You miss the point completely,'' Illinois senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat, told Mr LaPierre. A stronger background-check policy will keep criminals from getting guns in the first place, he said.
Another witness at the hearing was Mark Kelly, an astronaut and the husband of Ms Giffords.
He urged strengthening the background check system, saying 80 per cent of criminals reported obtaining their weapons through private sales with no such checks.
''Gabby is a gun owner, and I'm a gun owner,'' Mr Kelly told the committee. ''The breadth and complexity of the problem of gun violence is great, but it is not an excuse for inaction.''
Loughner purchased his gun legally and underwent a background examination, though it didn't cover evidence ''that would have prevented him from buying a gun through a background check system'', Mr Kelly said.
Despite the public's demand for stronger gun control, many politicians remain wary of alienating voters by supporting a crackdown on guns. Governor Andrew Cuomo's approval rating fell sharply among New York voters since he pushed restrictive gun laws through the Legislature, a poll released on Wednesday said.
Fifty-nine per cent said they approved of Mr Cuomo's performance, down 15 percentage points from his 74 per cent approval rating last month, the Quinnipiac University poll found.
The New York Times, Bloomberg