Two years after being severely wounded by a gunman who killed six people outside a Tucson, Ariz., grocery store, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband launched a political action committee aimed at curbing gun violence.
Spurred by last month’s killing of 20 children and six adults in a Connecticut elementary school, Ms. Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, wrote in an op-ed piece published Tuesday in USA Today that Americans for Responsible Solutions “will raise the funds necessary to balance the influence of the gun lobby.”
The push comes after the pair has quietly met with gun-control advocates around the nation, people with knowledge of those meetings said. The effort faces an uncertain future in Congress, where most Republicans have traditionally opposed gun restrictions.
Ms. Giffords could be a powerful influence on the national debate, gun-control advocates and policy makers said, not only as a survivor, but as a gun owner who has supported Second Amendment rights as a U.S. representative.
“We don’t want to take away your guns any more than we want to give up the two guns we have locked in a safe at home,” Ms. Giffords and Mr. Kelly wrote in their op-ed piece. “What we do want is what the majority of [National Rifle Association] members and other Americans want: responsible changes in our laws to require responsible gun ownership and reduce gun violence.”
It was unclear exactly what legislation or initiatives Ms. Giffords and Mr. Kelly would back with their new political action committee. Other Tucson shooting survivors have joined with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns initiative, and lobbied Congress to support legislation to beef up background checks for gun purchasers.
Tucson survivors said this week they would continue those efforts, and had planned to meet again with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on the issue.
Ms. Giffords and Mr. Kelly criticized the NRA for a “defiant and unsympathetic” response to the Newtown, Conn., shootings. The NRA advocated putting armed guards or police officers in schools to protect children and teachers. Ms. Giffords and Mr. Kelly said their PAC would “raise the funds necessary to balance the influence of the gun lobby, and will line up squarely behind leaders who will stand up for what’s right.”
The NRA didn’t respond immediately to a request for comment.
In its 141st year, the NRA has risen to become one of America’s most powerful lobby groups. Now the NRA is responding to a massacre that has President Obama advocating for more stringent gun control. WSJ’s Jason Bellini reports. Image: Getty
Ms. Giffords and Mr. Kelly were expected to elaborate on the initiative during an interview with ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer scheduled to air Tuesday night.
Ms. Giffords, who survived a gunshot wound to the head, retired from Congress last year to focus on her recovery.
During the November sentencing of Jared Loughner, who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the shooting, Mr. Kelly criticized politicians on gun control, saying that “as a nation, we have repeatedly passed up the opportunity to address this issue…we have done nothing.”
Until today, Ms. Giffords and Mr. Kelly had steered clear of formal efforts to advocate for gun control. But they have spoken broadly in favor of gun control on Facebook and in public after mass shootings.
Ms. Giffords and Mr. Kelly met with Mr. Bloomberg last week, but aides declined to discuss the topic of the meeting, saying it was private. The couple also met with survivors of the Newtown shootings on Friday.
In a transcript released by ABC News on Monday night, Mr. Kelly said after the father of a Newtown victim showed him a picture of his daughter, “I just about lost it.”
“This time our response must consist of more than regret, sorrow and condolence,” Mr. Kelly wrote on his Facebook page after the Newtown shooting, adding that a “meaningful discussion” about how gun laws “can be reformed and better enforced…can no longer wait.”
The move would add a new dimension to escalating calls for stepped-up, gun-control efforts, largely because of the widespread admiration and bipartisan support the former Arizona congresswoman enjoys. Ms. Giffords spoke in favor of Second Amendment rights as a congresswoman. In 2008, she supported repealing a handgun ban in Washington, D.C.
Mr. Kelly and Ms. Giffords “have a powerful story,” said John Feinblatt, Mr. Bloomberg’s chief policy adviser. “There’s nothing more powerful than the voice of somebody who has suffered as a result of gun violence.”