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Giffords says ‘time is now’ to fight for bill closing gun-sales loophole

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WASHINGTON – Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords returned to Washington Wednesday to urge Congress to have “the courage to do what’s right” and pass a bill that would require background checks for all commercial gun sales.

The Tucson Democrat, who was grievously wounded in a 2011 shooting spree, used a cane to walk herself to a lectern in a House office building, but was otherwise unassisted. She spoke without notes, haltingly but forcefully.

“Now is the time to come together to be responsible – Democrat, Republican, everyone,” Giffords said. “We must never stop fighting.”

She was on Capitol Hill to support a bipartisan measure – introduced Tuesday – that would require background checks on firearms purchases that happen online and at gun shows. Current law only requires federally licensed gun dealers to conduct background checks.

The bill would also strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System by providing incentives to states to improve submissions.

Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly have been outspoken advocates for “common sense” gun-control laws since 2011, when Giffords suffered a near-fatal gunshot wound during a Congress on Your Corner event at a Tucson supermarket. Gunman Jared Loughner approached the then-congresswoman with a 9 mm Glock 19 pistol and opened fire, killing six people – including a 6-year-old girl and a federal judge – and wounding 13.

Giffords was shot in the head at close range. She was still recuperating when she resigned from her congressional seat a little more than a year later.

“Stopping gun violence takes courage – the courage to do what?s right, the courage of new ideas,” Giffords said Wednesday. “I’ve seen great courage when my life was on the line. Be bold. Be courageous. The nation is counting on you.”

The bill, sponsored by four Republicans and four Democrats, aims to close loopholes in current background check legislation. But it would also prohibit the federal government from creating a registry of gun owners, something that gun-rights activists have been highly critical of in the past.

Kelly and Giffords both say they have been longtime gun owners, but Kelly believes it is time to act.

“We’ve all seen the bumper sticker. We live in Arizona so we see this bumper sticker a lot. It says, ‘Guns don’t kill people. People kill people,’” Kelly said. “Well we agree, and that’s one reason why background checks are so important.”

Around 33,000 Americans die each year from gunshot wounds and 100,000 are injured, Kelly said.

The same bill was introduced in the last Congress with 188 co-sponsors, but it never reached the House floor for a vote. More than 20 gun-control bills were introduced in the House in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting that left 26 dead – including 20 schoolchildren – but only one of those bills made it past committee.

Rep. Bob Dold, R-Ill., said he is confident the bill would pass the House if it came to the floor. He called background checks the “first line of defense” to keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals, domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill.

Dold assured onlookers that the legislation was not “overbroad” and that it did not violate the rights of law-abiding gun owners or the tradition of gun ownership in America.

“This legislation was smartly crafted to provide appropriate exceptions for common occurrences such as transfers between family members, friends, even individuals that are hunting together,” Dold said.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., called the bill “anti-criminal” and “pro-Second Amendment,” saying it would help stop the 170 felons, 50 domestic abusers and 20 fugitives who are able to purchase firearms daily without background checks.

“I’m a gun owner, and if it were not pro-Second Amendment, my name would not be on it,” Thompson said.