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Kelly, Giffords vow to continue gun-control fight, despite Senate loss

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WASHINGTON – A resolute Mark Kelly vowed Thursday that he and wife Gabrielle Giffords, a gun victim and former congresswoman, will campaign even harder for gun control after the Senate refused to expand background checks for gun sales.

The Senate voted 54-46 Wednesday for a measure that would have extended background checks to people buying guns online and at gun shows. But because of a quirk in Senate rules, the so-called Manchin-Toomey amendment needed 60 votes to pass.

“What a day yesterday, what a terrible day for our country,” Kelly said Thursday. “Gabby is disappointed, and she is angry, and so am I, but neither of us are deterred.”

After the Manchin-Toomey amendment failed, the Senate proceeded to reject a series of other gun-control proposals Wednesday. Kelly called it “a moment of shame for the Senate.”

But where Kelly saw a moment of shame, the National Rifle Association expressed gratitude “for the hard work and leadership of those senators who chose to pursue meaningful solutions to our nation’s most-pressing problems,” lobbyist Chris Cox said in a prepared statement Wednesday.

Cox said the amendment would have jeopardized citizens’ fundamental rights by requiring government permission to privately transfer firearms, but would “not reduce violent crime or keep our kids safe in their schools.”

In an opinion piece in the New York Times, however, Giffords said a Senate minority “gave in to fear and blocked commonsense legislation that would have made it harder for criminals and people with dangerous mental illnesses to get hold of deadly firearms.”

“These senators have heard from their constituents – who polls show overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks,” Giffords wrote. “And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them.”

Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Republicans, split on the Manchin-Toomey amendment with McCain voting for it and Flake voting against it.

McCain, one of just four Republicans to vote for the amendment, said Wednesday that he still supports gun ownership but could not ignore tragic cases of gun violence. He cited the 2011 shooting in Tucson where six people were killed and Giffords and 12 others were wounded.

In a Facebook posting Monday, Flake said he would oppose the amendment because the background checks it called for went “too far.” As an alternative, he said he was co-sponsoring a measure that would change how mental incompetency is reported during a background check.

Flake said through a spokeswoman Thursday that, “I respect Gabby and Mark and their strong viewpoints on this issue,” but his office would not otherwise elaborate on the vote, pointing instead to the Facebook posting.

Kelly called Flake’s vote proof that he did not understand the Manchin-Toomey amendment. Kelly said more background checks could save lives and that if it had not been for pressure from the NRA, the senators would have done the right thing.

“Had that vote been a secret ballot, I bet it would have passed with 80 votes,” Kelly said.

He repeated a pledge that Americans for Responsible Solutions – the group he and Giffords founded after December’s Newtown, Conn., school massacre – would work to elect lawmakers who support gun-control measures and challenge those who don’t, starting with the vote in the Senate this week.

Kelly said he and Giffords will not give up.

“Americans, and Gabby herself, are resilient and practical people,” Kelly said. “If Gabby was a quitter, she would have died in that parking lot two years ago.

“When she leaves the house every day to go to therapy, one of the last things she says to me as she gets into the car is, ‘Fight fight fight.’”