On eighth anniversary of shooting, Giffords in D.C. to support gun bill

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., watches former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords endorses his bill for universal background checks on gun sales. The bill was introduced on the eighth anniversary of a Tucson shooting that killed six and wounded Giffords and 12 others. (Photo by Keerthi Vedantam/Cronkite News)

Former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords looks on as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says it’s time for Congress to require universal background checks on gun purchases, under a bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif. (right). (Photo by Keerthi Vedantam/Cronkite News)

On the eighth anniversary of the Tucson shooting that killed six and wounded her and 12 others, former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords repeated her call for Congress to have the courage to stiffen background checks on gun sales. (Photo by Keerthi Vedantam/Cronikite News)

WASHINGTON – Eight years to the day after an attack that killed six and wounded 13, one of those victims, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was back in Washington Tuesday to tell Congress it’s time to act on gun control.

“Now is the time to come together, to be responsible,” the Tucson Democrat said, her speech still halting from the brain injury that left her near death. “Democrats, Republicans, everyone, we must never stop fighting.”

She was one of a group of survivors – including students from the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida – on hand to support a House bill that would require universal background checks on all gun purchases.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., who described himself as a lifetime gun owner, is lead sponsor of the bill, which started with five Democratic and five Republican co-sponsors. He said the vast majority of Americans agree that there need to be stronger use of the current background check system to keep guns out of the hands of people who would carry out attacks like the one in Tucson.

Thompson said it is time to “honor with action” those who have been affected by gun violence.

But a spokesman for the National Rifle Association said that what sponsors are calling “decisive action” to stem gun violence would not work if the measure became law.

“These so-called universal background checks will never be universal because criminals don’t follow the law,” Lars Daleside, the NRA spokesman, said in an email. “Instead of looking for solutions that will deal with the root cause of violent crime and save lives, anti-gun politicians would rather score political points by pushing ineffective legislation that doesn’t stop criminals from committing crimes.”

– Cronkite News audio by Keerthi Vedantam

Tuesday’s event was dominated by the stories of victims like Giffords and freshman Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., whose teenage son was shot and killed in 2012.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi cited the attack on Giffords in her introduction to the background-check bill.

“Everyone knows where he or she was when they heard the news” about the attack on Giffords, Pelosi said. “Gun violence shattered lives in Arizona and pierced America’s heart.”

Patricia Maisch was at the Congress on Your Corner event where Giffords was shot and took an ammunition clip from the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, as he tried to reload. She thinks the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 would greatly benefit states like Arizona.

“Arizona has very, very lax gun laws,” Maisch said. “You can almost drive-thru and buy a gun.”

At least two Arizona lawmakers, Democratic Reps. Tom O’Halleran of Sedona and Ruben Gallego of Phoenix, had said Tuesday they will co-sponsor the bill. Tucson shooting survivor Pam Simon said seeing that support for the bill is gratifying, but she is not optimistic about its chances with Republicans in charge of the Senate and the White House.

“There is hope,” Simon said. “But I don’t think President Trump will sign this legislation.”

-Cronkite News video by Micah Alise Bledsoe

That doesn’t mean it’s not needed, she said. Simon noted that other nations share issues with the U.S. – mental health problems, suicide and more – that can lead to gun violence, but they have fewer shootings because they have less access to firearms.

Despite the legislative challenges, Thompson pointed to Giffords and said “our fight is just starting.”

“She has stood as a powerful voice,” Thompson said. “This is in her honor and the honor of all those who have been affected.”

Maisch said that “a young man that shouldn’t have had guns had easy access and was able to kill six people in front of me and wound 13 others” because of lax gun control.

“When people tell me this is too hard a job … trying to get legislation changed, I tell them this is easy. Burying someone you love that was killed by gunfire is hard,” she said.

Giffords, repeating what has become a routine speech for her on the issue, said that it “takes courage” to stop gun violence, “the courage to do what’s right, the courage of new ideas.”

“I’ve seen great courage when my life is on the line,” she said. “Be bold, be courageous, the nation is counting on you.”

– Cronkite News reporters Keerthi Vedantam, Alyssa Klink and Micah Alise Bledsoe contributed to this report.