Two years to the day after she was shot in the head in a failed assassination attempt while meeting with constituents, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly launched an advocacy effort Tuesday intended to prevent gun violence.
Giffords, an Arizona Democrat who is still recovering from a shooting that left six others dead, and Kelly, a retired astronaut, announced in a USA Today op-ed that they have formed a political action committee called Americans for Responsible Solutions and created a website that will collect contributions. The group, they said, will attempt to level the playing field in the advocacy battle with the well-financed and politically powerful National Rifle Association, including by fundraising and supporting like-minded lawmakers.
“Until now, the gun lobby’s political contributions, advertising and lobbying have dwarfed spending from anti-gun violence groups. No longer,” Giffords and Kelly wrote. “With Americans for Responsible Solutions engaging millions of people about ways to reduce gun violence and funding political activity nationwide, legislators will no longer have reason to fear the gun lobby.”
Gun rights organizations have vastly outspent gun-control groups, making the passage of new restrictions on firearms one of the heaviest legislative lifts on Capitol Hill. The NRA alone spent 10 times as much as gun control groups on lobbying in 2011 and in the first three quarters of 2012, according to OpenSecrets.org, which tracks money in politics.
Political spending on elections also tilts heavily in favor of gun rights groups, and the NRA has strong backers among Republicans and Democrats in Congress. Exactly half the members of the new Senate have ratings of “A-minus” or higher from the group, which tracks lawmakers’ voting patterns.
The new effort by Giffords and Kelly is the latest indication that gun control groups want to capitalize on the momentum to tighten firearms restrictions after 26 people — including 20 first-graders — were shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last month.
The attack has prompted more than a dozen congressional Democrats to modify their pro-gun positions and keep the door open to supporting gun control legislation, and President Barack Obama has created a gun violence task force that is set to make policy recommendations to Congress by the end of the month. Gun control groups are further encouraged because Obama does not face re-election and is seen as freer to pursue politically risky legislation.
Giffords and Kelly, who said they are gun owners themselves, suggested in their op-ed Tuesday that their group would be supportive of three high-profile legislative efforts that are likely to be debated in the new Congress: reinstating the ban on semiautomatic “assault weapons” that existed from 1994-2004 (PL 103-322); strengthening background checks for gun purchases; and banning ammunition magazines that contain more than 10 rounds.
“Weapons designed for the battlefield have a home in our streets. Criminals and the mentally ill can easily purchase guns by avoiding background checks. Firearm accessories designed for killing at a high rate are legal and widely available,” they wrote.
Other prominent gun-control advocates also have stepped up their efforts after the Dec. 14 shootings. Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire New York City mayor and co-founder of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, has said he intends to play a more active role in the debate, and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence — the nation’s leading gun-control organization — also has ramped up its efforts.
But gun rights groups are also making their voices heard as the policy debate approaches. A coalition of conservative gun rights groups announced this week that it intends to hold a “Gun Appreciation Day” on Jan. 19, two days before Obama is sworn in for his second term.
The groups, including the Second Amendment Foundation and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms , “are urging their supporters to line up ‘around the block’ at gun stores, gun counters, gun shows and gun ranges to protest the Obama administration’s post-Sandy Hook assault on gun rights.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.