Senate gun hearing opens with Giffords’ call for action …The former congresswoman and gun-assault survivor, along with husband Mark Kelly, was scheduled to meet with President Obama later Wednesday.
WASHINGTON — Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was shot in the head more than two years ago during a mass shooting in a Tucson parking lot, opened the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing Wednesday with a call to action on gun violence.
«Speaking is difficult but I need to say something important,» she said in a slow, deliberate voice to the dais of senators. «Violence is a big problem, too many children are dying, too many children. We must do something.
«Americans are counting on you,» she said.
Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, launched Americans for Responsible Solutions this month in order to support candidates who favor «responsible solutions to reduce gun violence.»
The hearing, which exposed major differences of opinion among legislators, gun control supporters and gun-rights groups, covered many of the topics being discussed as possible solutions to gun violence, including better monitoring of mental health, universal background checks and a ban on high-capacity magazines.
Kelly called for legislators to close the loophole that allows private sellers to sell their guns without background checks, strengthen gun trafficking penalties for trafficking, and eliminate limitations on the Centers for Disease Control to study gun violence.
He also called for «a careful and civil conversation about the lethality of the firearms we permit to be legally bought and sold.»
Kelly and Giffords were scheduled to meet with President Obama later on Wednesday, according to White House press secretary Jay Carney.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., expressed confidence that a bipartisan solution to gun violence that protects Second Amendment rights could be reached.
«We must come together today as Americans seeking common cause. Let us forgo sloganeering, demagoguery and partisan recriminations,» Leahy said. «This is too important for all that.»
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, decried violent video games and rejected the argument that they do not contribute to real-world gun violence.
«I share Vice President Biden’s disbelief of manufacturer denials that these games have no effect on real-world violence,» Grassley said.
He criticized the bill to ban assault weapons, introduced by fellow Judiciary Committee member Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. «Banning guns based on their appearance does not make sense,» he said. «The 1994 assault weapons ban did not stop Columbine.»
National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre criticized universal background checks, saying they would be as ineffective as current laws are today.
The statement appeared to be a reversal of LaPierre’s 1999 testimony on the issue to the House Judiciary Committee, during which he said, «We think it’s reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere for anyone.»
When pressed on the change by Leahy during the Wednesday hearing, LaPierre said, «Senator, I do not believe the way the law is working now, unfortunately, that it does any good to extend the law to private sales between hobbyists and collectors.»
The exchange with Leahy was one of several LaPierre had with lawmakers during the three-hour-plus hearing — the most heated of which came from Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who told LaPierre he had missed the point about background checks.
«Mr. LaPierre, that’s the point,» Durbin said. «The criminals won’t go to purchase the guns because there’ll be a background check that will stop them from the original purchase, you missed that point completely.»
Sen. Charles Schumer, D.-N.Y., said he is in discussions with legislators who have «high NRA ratings» on bipartisan legislation to reduce gun violence, but could not yet share details. Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Mark Kirk of Illinois and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia have confirmed that they are in talks with Schumer on a bill dealing with background checks.
«It won’t create any gun registry,» Schumer said. «It will not limit your ability to borrow your Uncle Willie’s hunting rifle.»
James Johnson, chief of the Baltimore County (Md.) Police Department, who also testified, said he supported Obama’s approach to reducing gun violence and was the only person on the panel to express support for Feinstein’s assault weapons ban.
«I’m here today to tell you we are long overdue in strengthening our nation’s gun laws,» he said.
Feinstein asked Johnson whether the proposed legislation would be effective, and he said it would.
The hearing was well into its third hour when Kelly responded to a question from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., about background checks by announcing the details of another mass shooting, this time in Phoenix.
«While we were having this hearing, and we certainly don’t know the details, but in Phoenix, Arizona, there is what seems to be, possibly, a shooting with multiple victims,» Kelly said.