WASHINGTON – Former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords did not speak, but her presence was clearly felt at a news conference Friday of Democratic legislators and students from around the country who were demanding tougher gun laws.
The Capitol Hill event, led by Florida Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Ted Deutch and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, was just one of a series of events leading up to Saturday’s March For Our Lives in the wake of the mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, school.
Klobuchar thanked “my hero” Giffords and Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly, for their work on gun safety.
“I am honored to be with Sen. Nelson and Rep. Deutch and of course Gabby Giffords my hero, who has been leading this fight with Mark for so long,” Klobuchar said.
Giffords was shot and severely wounded in a 2011 attack at a Tucson supermarket where she was holding a “Congress on Your Corner” event. She was one of 13 wounded in that attack, which killed six.
Deutch and the other lawmakers at Friday’s event thanked the students and pointed to actions Congress has taken in the 37 days since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 and injured 14.
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“Congress did more yesterday than they did in recent memory,” Deutch said, referencing the budget bill that included language to increase funding for school security, among other measures.
But all of Friday’s speakers agreed that the act is just a first step, and more needs to done to expand background checks on gun buyers and limit access to some semiautomatic rifles.
The lawmakers were joined by students from across the nation, including Dimitri Hoth, a Stoneman Douglas student, who said Saturday’s march will go into “the history books as the greatest show of student activism in our country.”
The Washington march is the main event among more than 800 planned “sibling” rallies across the country, including some in Arizona.
Klobuchar acknowledged the difficulty gun-control advocates have had in getting legislation passed, but that the student movement that has arisen after Parkland could finally be enough.
“I realized as I stood with law enforcement officers, with cops, as a prosecutor asking for assault weapons (ban) … it wasn’t enough we couldn’t get it done,” Klobuchar said. “And when Gabby Giffords was gunned down in front of a supermarket, doing her job and lived and went on to take on this cause all over the country, she would tell you no matter what she did it still hasn’t been enough.
“This is the reckoning, this weekend,” Klobuchar said.
Nelson said the students have created a climate where a change to gun laws can happen.
“These students have spoken out with such eloquence, such determination, such hope,” he said. “Their hope gives me hope, their determination gives me determination.”
Hoth said the country now has the opportunity to prevent any more gun violence in schools, and he thanked Giffords and the organization she founded for the effort she and Kelly have taken over the past five years.
“First and foremost I would like to thank Giffords for their invaluable support in this most troubling of times,” Hoth said. “If it wasn’t for them, 200 students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas would not be standing here today.
“But I would also like to thank them for their tireless and valiant efforts fighting the epidemic of gun violence in America,” he said.
Though Giffords did not speak, Kelly did answer a question about the progress of gun legislation over those five years.
“It’s a little bit of two steps forward, you know, a step and a half back at times,” he said, adding he is excited for the rally tomorrow.
“But what’s really exciting, they’re not going to be students for long, they’re going to be voters,” Kelly said. “This election in November could turn out to be a referendum on what Congress collectively has not done on this issue for so many years, and when that happens we’re going to see some real change.”
Despite the inclusion of school safety in the just-passed budget, Klobuchar said Congress still has work to do.
“We did do something last night,” she said. “But we know that is not enough.”