Her speech halting but her conviction strong, former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords said Thursday that nationwide gun violence can be eradicated through bravery, cooperation and will.
“We must never stop fighting — fight, fight, fight. Be bold. Be courageous,” Giffords said, standing alongside her husband, retired Navy captain and former astronaut Mark Kelly at the unveiling of their new bipartisan group, the Minnesota Coalition for Common Sense.
Giffords, who was badly wounded in a 2011 shooting that left six people dead and 13 injured, became the face of the nationwide campaign for gun control as she continues to recover from the gunshot wound to the head that forced her retirement from Congress.
Kelly, who introduced the initiative and did the majority of the speaking, later presented Giffords, who walked with a limp toward the podium. She recited a 60-word speech imploring Democrats and Republicans to work together to find a solution.
“Stopping gun violence takes courage. The courage to do what’s right, the courage of new ideas,” Giffords said. “I’ve seen great courage when my life was on the line. Now is the time to come together to be responsible.”
Giffords said little else throughout the day’s events, which also included a roundtable discussion. They then toured the West St. Paul Police Department’s indoor shooting range with several local law enforcement officials.
Giffords and Kelly recently visited New Hampshire and Oregon to introduce similar groups. The focus of the coalitions is to “do something about gun violence … to say ‘enough,’ ” Kelly said.
“We have a gun violence problem in our nation that makes us stand out in the worst ways,” he said. “We have to do better. We can and we must.”
The Minnesota-focused group will urge local leaders to “close loopholes” in state law that allow “dangerous people” to buy guns without a background check, Kelly said.
Other initiatives of the group include expanding the background-check system, curbing domestic violence homicides, and enacting tougher penalties for illegal gun traffickers and straw buyers. In 2010, there were 365 gun deaths in the state, according to the coalition.
Giffords and Kelly were joined onstage by prosecutors, law enforcement officials and domestic violence prevention advocates from Minnesota. After she spoke, Giffords walked off the stage and was escorted to the front row, where she sat smiling for the remainder of the news conference, nodding when other speakers thanked her.
The initiative focused largely on how firearms are legally obtained and later used to commit crimes.
Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell said during the roundtable discussion that enhancing background checks “will make a huge difference” in curbing gun violence. He also talked about family members restricting firearms in a crisis.
“These small little things will help,” Schnell said.
Former St. Paul police Cmdr. Dave Korus said the state highly regulates the sale of alcohol and motor vehicles, yet it is very easy for felons to buy guns online or from a straw buyer.
Andrew Rothman, president of the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance, said in an interview that without knowing all of the coalition’s plans, he is against the registration of firearms that would come with the expansion of background checks.
“Not every government registration of firearms leads to confiscation of firearms by the government,” Rothman said. “But every confiscation begins with registration. We are not prepared; we are not willing to be in a government database for exercising a fundamental civil right.”
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom reiterated that the group is not trying to prevent anyone from purchasing firearms. “What we are trying to do is to ensure that the guns don’t get into the hands of those who shouldn’t,” he said. “Those who have criminal records, those who are involved in domestic violence and are prohibited from owning guns, those who suffer from serious mental illness.”
Also discussed at the roundtable were guns on college campuses and domestic violence homicides.
Babette Jamison, executive director of Women’s Advocates Inc., a nonprofit that provides support to women and children escaping domestic violence, said some of the people they serve have lived “a life-course of violence.”
“This has become a way of life for them,” Jamison said.
Often, she added, young people think guns are “glamorous” or a “way to protect themselves and stay alive.”
But she said education and awareness are key.
“As we increase our decisionmaking abilities, we can support these young people in a better quality of life,” Jamison said.
Kelly, who said that at some point there need to be strong federal laws aimed at curbing gun violence, ended the discussion saying that the coalition would look for opportunities to strengthen laws in the state.
“And over time,” Kelly said, “that should have a serious impact [on] the death rate and the gun violence in these communities.”