Former Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who survived a 2011 shooting, testified Tuesday before a Washington state House panel considering an initiative to expand firearm background checks in the state, telling lawmakers that "the nation is counting on you."
With her husband, retired NASA space shuttle commander Mark Kelly, sitting next to her, Giffords spoke slowly and briefly to the panel that was taking public testimony on Initiative 594, which seeks to require background checks for all sales, including online sales and private transactions, such as those that occur at gun shows. The checks would be conducted at federally licensed firearm dealers, where people already must undergo such scrutiny before purchasing a new weapon.
"Stopping gun violence takes courage, the courage to do what's right, the courage of new ideas," Giffords told the panel. "Be bold, be courageous. The nation is counting on you."
Giffords is still recovering from a brain injury suffered when a mentally ill man shot her in the head as she met with constituents outside a shopping center in Tucson, Ariz. Six people were killed in the attack.
Earlier in the day, Gov. Jay Inslee called Giffords "one of the most courageous people I've ever met."
Washington state lawmakers had considered a measure similar to I-594 during last year's legislative session, but it didn't pass the House or the Senate.
The line of people signing up to testify before the committee snaked outside of the building toward the Capitol. The House gallery of the Capitol was set up for the large crowd that couldn't fit into the small committee room.
I-594 does not include some of the exemptions that lawmakers had originally been considering under last year's legislation. For example, law enforcement officers or people who have concealed-pistol licenses still would have to go through background checks on private transactions under the initiative.
Brian Judy, the Washington state liaison for the National Rifle Association, noted that several high-profile shootings, including Giffords', were committed by people who went through background checks.
"Along with the empathy for these victims, I feel disappointment that these tragedies would be exploited," he said.
Judy said that the initiative wouldn't prevent criminals from obtaining guns through the black market or theft, and it would only "create a massive database of lawful handgun owners."
"This is just not going to keep guns out of the hands of criminals," he said.
The House Judiciary Committee also is considering Initiative 591, which would prevent Washington state from adopting background-check laws stricter than the national standard, which requires the checks for sales by licensed dealers but not for purchases from private sellers. It would also prohibit confiscation of firearms without due process.
Alan Gottlieb, chairman for Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and a spokesman for Protect Our Gun Rights, called I-591 a "common-sense background check measure."
"Our mission is to ensure public safety while protecting the constitutional civil rights of law-abiding gun owners and all citizens," he said.
If lawmakers take no action, both initiatives go to the November ballot for voters to decide.
Giffords also is appearing in a television ad airing before and after President Barack Obama's State of the Union address. In the ad, Giffords faces the camera and says, "Congress is afraid of the gun lobby."
The ad is part of a national cable-advertising campaign that is being paid for by Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group Giffords founded with her husband. It's set to run nationwide on CNN and MSNBC.
Kelly testified that both he and his wife own guns and that they "believe wholly and completely in the Second Amendment."
"Rights demand responsibility," he said. "This right should not extend to criminals. It should not extend to the dangerously criminally ill. When dangerous people get guns, we are all vulnerable."
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Initiative 594: http://wagunresponsibility.org
Initiative 591: http://wagunrights.org/tag/initiative-591