On the second anniversary of the mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona that left her critically injured and six people dead, former US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Tuesday launched a high-profile campaign against gun violence in America by taking aim at her former colleagues in Congress.
“In response to a horrific series of shootings that has sown terror in our communities, victimized tens of thousands of Americans, and left one of its own bleeding and near death in a Tucson parking lot, Congress has done something quite extraordinary — nothing at all,” said Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, in a USA Today op-ed published Tuesday.
“Special interests purporting to represent gun owners but really advancing the interests of an ideological fringe have used big money and influence to cow Congress into submission… As a result, we are more vulnerable to gun violence,” they added.
With that, the husband-and-wife team announced their new Americans for Responsible Solutions initiative, which aims to raise enough money to balance the influence of the powerful pro-gun lobbying group the National Rifle Association (NRA) and others in the gun industry.
The announcement comes just days after Giffords and Kelly had an emotional meeting with family members of those killed in the December shooting massacre that claimed the lives of 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
“We can’t just hope that the last shooting tragedy will prevent the next,” they said. “Achieving reforms to reduce gun violence and prevent mass shootings will mean matching gun lobbyists in their reach and resources.”
The couple is pushing for comprehensive background checks for anyone purchasing private firearms, and more effective treatment for those who are mentally ill.
“I bought a gun at Walmart recently and I went through a background check. It’s not a difficult thing to do,” Kelly said in an interview with ABC News. “Why can’t we just do that and make it more difficult for criminals and the mentally ill to get guns?”
The man who shot Giffords was deemed incompetent to stand trial and was sentenced in November to seven life terms plus 140 years in prison without parole.
“America has seen an astounding 11 mass shootings since a madman used a semiautomatic pistol with an extended ammunition clip to shoot me and kill six others,” Giffords wrote.
“This country is known for using its determination and ingenuity to solve problems, big and small… But when it comes to protecting our communities from gun violence, we’re not even trying — and for the worst of reasons.”
The new initiative launches as the national debate over gun control heats up with a series of White House meetings this week on how best to curb gun violence in America.
The administration has invited gun owners, victims’ groups, educators, mental health experts and those in the video-game industry for high-level discussions on possible changes in policy.
A task force on gun control led by Vice President Joe Biden is set to submit recommendations to President Barack Obama by the end of the month.