Giffords, Kelly say ‘common sense’ gun laws needed to protect vets

Mark Kelly, who founded Americans for Responsible Solutions with wife Gabby Giffords called loopholes in gun background checks “kind of crazy.” (Photo by Keshia Butts/Cronkite News)

Former Rep. Gabby Giffords said it “takes courage” to stop gun violence. Giffords, severely wounded in a 2011 shooting, was speaking at a vets’ gun-control group. (Photo by Keshia Butts/Cronkite News)

Mark Kelly, a former Navy captain and former astronaut, said the nation is in the grip of “a gun violence crisis” that calls for new limits on gun sales. (Photo by Keshia Butts/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Former Rep. Gabby Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, told a Washington audience Friday that “common sense” steps on guns need to be taken to “help address the epidemic of gun suicide” by veterans.

The two were on hand for the launch of the Veterans Coalition for Common Sense, which said it will work to close loopholes in gun-control laws, strengthen current laws and focus on issues of mental health and suicide prevention for veterans.

“Stopping gun violence takes courage,” Giffords said to the crowd at the Reserve Officers Association. “I’ve seen great courage when my life was on the line. Now is the time to come together.”

The group, co-founded by Kelly, is an offshoot of Veterans for Responsible Solutions, which was founded in the wake of the 2013 shootings at the Washington Navy Yard that left 12 people dead.

That group, in turn, was founded by Americans for Responsible Solutions. It was organized by Kelly and Giffords in 2013 after the shootings at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school that left 26 dead, and two years after the Tucson shooting that killed six people and wounded 13, including Giffords, a Democrat from Tucson.

“Our country is at the grips of a gun violence crisis,” said Kelly, a retired Navy captain and astronaut. “It’s time for our leaders to take some common sense responsible steps to keep guns out of the wrong hands and help address the epidemic of gun suicide … among our veterans and to do something to help make our community safer.”

The threat is pronounced among veterans, who were committing suicide at the rate of 22 a day, according to a Department of Veterans Affairs report cited by the coalition, which said 70 percent were committed with firearms.

Kelly and Giffords have maintained all along that they do not intend to weaken the Second Amendment, but that they want to close loopholes in background check laws for gun sales that he said currently “let dangerous people have easy access to firearms.”

“Under our current laws in most states felons and domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill have an option of buying a gun without a background check,” Kelly said Friday. “That’s kind of crazy.”

A call seeking comment on the veterans group from the National Rifle Association was not immediately returned Friday.

But a staffer with the House Veterans Affairs Committee said the chairman there, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, would oppose any stricter gun-control measures.

Miller introduced a bill in April that would prohibit VA officials from putting veterans in the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System – which can prevent someone from buying a gun – without a court order that the vet posed a danger to themselves or others. The bill has yet to receive a hearing.

But retired Adm. James Arden Barnett, a member of the Veterans Coalition for Common Sense, said something must be done.

“We know from this profession of arms, the power of firearms,” Barnett said. “What they can do in the hands of the people who are trained in, understand and respected and the damage they can do when they fall into the wrong hands.”