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A Couple's Fight For Tighter Gun Control


This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. The debate over gun control came to Capitol Hill this past week. People on both sides of the issue testified before a Senate committee about various gun control proposals; including background checks for all gun purchases, and a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Wayne LaPierre is the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association. He told the committee that the NRA rejects those proposals.

WAYNE LAPIERRE: Law-abiding gun owners will not accept blame for the acts of violent or deranged criminals; nor do we believe that government should dictate what we can lawfully own and use, to protect our families.

MARTIN: Also at the hearing were former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly. Two years ago, Giffords was shot in the head while meeting with constituents in Tucson. Still recovering from her injuries, Giffords urged lawmakers to act.

GABRIELLE GIFFORDS: It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be bold, be courageous. Americans are counting on you.

MARTIN: I spoke with Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly, after the hearing. The couple recently created a political action committee to support gun control; and I asked Kelly how universal background checks would reduce violence when so many guns are obtained illegally.

MARK KELLY: I mean, when we look at what happened here in Tucson, the man who shot Gabby - and murdered six of our constituents, and injured 12 other people, other than Gabby - you know, he purchased his gun legally, through a background check. The problem in that situation was his history of mental illness, and his history of drug use, was not entered into the national instant criminal background check system. If he was rejected, I presume he would have gone to a gun show, to try to buy a weapon without a background check; or a private seller. So if we did a couple things - first of all, get all the information into the system; and then close the gun shows-slash-private seller loophole; it would have been much more difficult for him to get a gun.

MARTIN: Most of the gun violence in this country is committed with handguns, not assault weapons. Why has the discussion now focused on assault weapons? And won't some of the new laws that are being proposed - kind of fail to address handgun violence?

KELLY: Well, certainly assault weapons get the focus because you have a gun that's - can shoot a lot of rounds very quickly, high velocity, and it's very lethal. And these mass shootings often are done with assault weapons. But I agree with you. You know, most gun violence and most murders - the 33 we have every day, in this country - are done with handguns. That's why it's so important for a universal background check, and closing the gun show and the private seller loophole, to make it more difficult for criminals to get guns.

MARTIN: Have you gotten any signals after your appearance on Capitol Hill, that you and your wife were actually able to change some minds?

KELLY: Well, I think it takes time to change some people's minds. Certainly, Gabby's testimony was incredibly compelling. I'm extremely proud of her. And I'm sure there are some members of Congress that feel a little bit differently about this, after seeing Gabby testify.

MARTIN: Did anyone tell you as much - or that's just kind of your impression?

KELLY: I guess it would be my impression. I have spoken to some members of Congress. I didn't ask them that question, specifically. But their attitudes about this issue - without giving you names - is a little bit different than I might have expected it to be.

MARTIN: Your wife's also someone who is working really hard on her own recovery. You have talked about the fact that the NRA has had powerful voices promoting their agenda, but advocates of tighter gun laws have not had as vocal advocates out there. Are you and your wife prepared to be that? That's kind of a high-stress endeavor.

KELLY: It is. And that's why we did not take it on after Tucson. We didn't take it on after Aurora, or after the shooting in the Sikh temple. Unfortunately - unfortunately - it took 20 murdered first-graders and some of their teachers, in their classrooms, to push us to the point where we said, you know, we just can't stand by and just talk about this; we actually have to do something about it. I mean, even, you know, Wayne LaPierre agrees that we have a problem. Now, how we should solve it, you know, we have a difference of opinion there. But I do think we do have some common ground. You know, I shook his hand. I got to talk to him briefly. I hope to have another conversation with him, in the future, and I'm hopeful that we get some real gun violence legislation passed to protect Americans, including kids in their classrooms.

MARTIN: Capt. Mark Kelly. He is the husband of former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The two of them recently created a pro-gun control political action committee. It's called Americans for Responsible Solutions. He joined us from member station KUAZ in Tucson. Capt. Kelly, thanks so much for taking the time.

KELLY: You are very welcome. Thanks for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.