Mark Kelly on Politicizing Las Vegas Shooting: ‘If Not Now, When?’

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and her husband, retired NASA astronaut Capt. Mark Kelly, hold a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 2, 2017. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

WASHINGTON – Gun-control advocate and former astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), said on Capitol Hill today that President Trump’s message of “thoughts and prayers” for the families of the victims affected by the Las Vegas shooting is insufficient to stop gun violence.

“What we’re hearing today at the Capitol and the White House are thoughts and prayers. Thoughts and prayers are important. We send our thoughts and prayers, too, but they are not enough. Your thoughts and prayers aren’t going to stop the next shooting,” Kelly said alongside Giffords during a press conference. “Only action and leadership will do that. For years, Gabby and I have been working to get the people in this building to summon the courage to take meaningful action that make our communities safer places to live.”

Reacting to the mass shooting in Las Vegas that has claimed the lives of 59 people, Trump said, “Melania and I are praying for every American who has been hurt, wounded, or lost the ones they love so dearly in this terrible, terrible attack. We pray for the entire nation to find unity and peace. And we pray for the day when evil is banished, and the innocent are safe from hatred and from fear.”

Kelly, co-founder of the political action committee Americans for Responsible Solutions, criticized the proposed Hearing Protection Act, which is now part of the Sportsmen Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also condemned the bill because it would amend the Internal Revenue code to “eliminate the $200 transfer tax on firearm silencers, and treat any person who acquires or possesses a firearm silencer as meeting any registration or licensing requirements of the National Firearms Act with respect to such silencer.”

“Imagine how much worse last night’s shooting could have been if the gunman had a silencer. Imagine the confusion for first responders if they arrived on the scene to a bunch of civilians wielding their own guns attempting to return fire. Imagine the gun lobby’s version of society – everyone armed, everyone out for themselves, everyone at risk all the time. Folks, that’s just going backwards. We do not have to live this way,” said Kelly.

“We need a president who recognizes that we have a gun-violence problem and will work towards solutions. Americans need more than our president’s prayers. We need his plans. We need a Congress that will stand up to the special interests, look at the evidence, and act to save lives. Public safety must be our top priority,” he added.

Kelly and Giffords plan to campaign for Democratic Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam, who is running against Republican Ed Gillespie. Kelly said guns and politics go hand-in-hand.

“Who we elect matters. Don’t let anyone tell you not to talk about politics when we talk about guns. Gabby got into politics because she wanted to govern. The people we elect will either take us backwards, condemning us to many more days when we wake up to more carnage and more lost lives, or they will take us forwards towards a safer country,” he said.

Kelly was asked for his reaction to those who argue that no one should be “politicizing” the Las Vegas tragedy the day after the incident.

“If not now, when? Right? Gabby and I have all those folks in our thoughts and prayers,” he replied. “How many times can we say that over and over again – ‘now is not the time’? Well, today is the time.”

Kelly was also asked if he would be a more effect gun-control advocate as a member of Congress.

“Every time I get asked that question I do think about it, but Gabby and I have been incredibly effective, our organization, in getting legislation passed in more than 45 state capitals, so we are moving this in the right direction,” he said. “But until we accept this and until the people in that [Capitol] building accept this as a serious public health crisis on both sides of the aisle, we will have other mass shootings like this.”

Kelly recommended Congress pass universal background checks for gun sales and other measures.

“Where these laws are passed, fewer people get shot. Where they have been repealed, murder and violence has increased. Subject the sale of the most lethal weapons to stronger oversight and regulation. You can buy an AR-15 in a parking lot with no background check at all – that’s crazy. Require guns to be safely secured in the homes of gun owners so kids can’t get their hands on them and so unstable relatives do not have access to them,” he said.

“Stop domestic abusers from getting guns – women are too often killed by abusers with firearms and most mass shootings start as domestic violence incidents. Allow restraining orders, just like we do with a domestic abuser, to stop folks in crisis from accessing guns. Stop the trafficking of firearms from states with weaker laws to states with stronger laws,” he added.

Kelly also said Congress should establish a bipartisan special commission on enacting solutions that will curb gun violence and save lives.

“Without action we are asking one person to be the next person of our weakness to address evil and then another and then another and then another,” he said.

“The nation is counting on you,” Giffords added.