With many in Washington glued to the immigration debate, Democratic former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is stoking the flames of another emotionally charged issue: gun control.
After a compromise Senate bill expanding background checks failed to reach the necessary 60-vote threshold in April, Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, took to the skies Monday to travel across the country in hopes of re-energizing supporters of tightened gun control.
“This is not going away,” said Pia Carusone, the executive director of Giffords’ political action committee, Americans for Responsible Solutions. “We had one vote on one bill in one chamber of Congress. There is a lot more that needs to and will get done.”
The seven-day tour includes stops in six states where at least one senator voted against the background-check bill – including Alaska, North Carolina and Nevada – as well as Maine, where Republican Sen. Susan Collins and independent Sen. Angus King supported the measure.
Recent polling sponsored by Gifford’s PAC found overwhelming support for background checks in Alaska, Nevada, New Hampshire and North Dakota, leading the group to tout gun control as widely popular.
“We’ll celebrate those who vote yes,” Giffords wrote in a USA Today opinion piece published Monday, “and we’ll notice those who ignored their constituents.” Giffords herself is a victim of gun violence, suffering permanent injuries from a 2011 shooting at a political rally in Tucson.
But not all are celebrating with Giffords, as gun-rights groups don’t necessarily welcome the tour with open arms. Paul Valone, the president of the gun-rights group Grass Roots North Carolina, said Sunday’s upcoming stop in Raleigh was nothing more than a photo op.
“They have no popular support,” he said. “This is all about a media opportunity and creating propaganda to create the illusion of popular support.” Valone said he was unsure whether his group would protest Giffords’ arrival. In late June, the group’s protesters met New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun control advocacy organization during a stop in Raleigh.
A February poll of North Carolinians by Elon University found that 93 percent of respondents – including 91 percent of Republicans – supported requiring background checks on all firearms purchases. Valone called the number misleading, and he said the failed Senate legislation amounted to much more than a background check.
“Take your message to the allegedly gun-free cities, which experience horrific rates of crime, because, frankly, we don’t want to hear it in North Carolina,” he said.
“We’re not interested in an agenda that is packaged to sound reasonable – background checks – but is in fact the attempt to create a de facto gun registration system out of the national instant-check system.”
Andrew Arulanandam, the director of public affairs for the National Rifle Association, said Giffords’ push was the latest in a series of proposals that would affect only the rights of law-abiding gun owners.
“Reasonable people understand that expanding the scope of transactions covered under a universal background-check proposal will not help reduce crime and will not help reduce horrific incidents from happening,” he said. Arulanandam reiterated his belief that real progress comes from a focus on punishing criminals and restricting access to weapons.
Giffords and Kelly launched their super PAC in January, two years after she was shot and less than a month after a gunman in Connecticut killed 26 children and adults at an elementary school in Connecticut.
The former congresswoman has limited her public appearances since the shooting, but Carusone called the trip energizing and “motivating” for Giffords.
“She’s really passionate about trying to find a middle ground where gun owners and non-gun owners can unite around some of the beliefs they share,” Carusone said.
Despite the frustration of not achieving legislative success, Carusone said the group wouldn’t be deterred.
“These things can take time, unfortunately, but there’s a great sense of urgency here, because in this case, we believe that lives are on the line,” she said.
Senate vote on background checks
Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords will visit seven states in hopes of building support for gun control legislation.