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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Giffords seeks 'bold' action as US Congress takes up gun control

Shooting victim and former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) (L) and her husband Retired NASA astronaut and Navy Capt. Mark Kelly (2nd L) arrive for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about gun control on Capitol Hill January 30, 2013.

Former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, grievously wounded in a 2011 mass shooting, made an emotional plea for Congress to take action to curb US gun violence, but a National Rifle Association executive said new gun laws "have failed in the past and they'll fail again."

Speaking haltingly, Giffords urged lawmakers to be bold and courageous as she opened testimony at the first congressional hearing on gun violence since the Dec. 14 massacre in which a gunman shot dead 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

Responding to outrage across the country following that incident, President Barack Obama and other Democrats have asked Congress to pass the largest package of gun restrictions in decades.

"Speaking is difficult. But I need to say something important," Giffords, who survived a head wound in an assassination attempt in Tucson, Arizona in which six people were killed and 13 others wounded, told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying - too many children. We must do something. It will be hard, but the time is now," said Giffords, who was accompanied by her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly. "You must act. Be bold, be courageous. Americans are counting on you."

Obama's proposals to curb gun violence include reinstating the U.S. ban on military-style assault weapons, limiting the capacity of ammunition magazines, and more extensive background checks of prospective gun buyers, largely to verify whether they have a history of crime or mental illness.

Witnesses and lawmakers at the hearing agreed on the constitutional right to own guns but clashed over Obama's proposals, particularly the call for universal background checks for all gun buyers. That is seen as the most likely restriction to gain bipartisan support in a sharply divided Congress.

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and CEO of the powerful gun rights lobbying group the National Rifle Association, dismissed Obama's plan to close loopholes in the background check law.

"Let's be honest, background checks will never be universal because criminals will never submit to them," LaPierre said.

Federally licensed firearms dealers are required to run background checks for criminal records on gun buyers. But the government estimates that 40 percent of purchasers avoid screening by obtaining their guns from private sellers, including those at gun shows.

Kelly said tightening background checks for all gun buyers would be one of the most important ways to prevent guns from falling into the hands of criminals or the mentally ill.

"I mean, I can't think of something that would make our country safer than doing just that," Kelly testified, calling it the "common sense thing to do."

Obama's gun restrictions face a difficult challenge getting through the Democratic-led Senate and Republican-led House of Representatives, where many Republicans and some pro-gun Democrats have long opposed stronger gun-control laws.

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