Gabby Giffords, Mark Kelly Bring New Gun Control Campaign to Arizona

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, have started a new gun-control drive in Arizona with the formation of a new lobbying group, the Arizona Coalition for Common Sense.

Giffords and Kelly expressed optimism that the wisdom of their arguments would prevail. At the same time, though, they are facing a tidal wave of legislation that would make it easier to buy, sell and shoot guns in Arizona.

And then there’s the Wild West culture of Arizona.

Giffords didn’t use the phrase “gun control” even though part of what the group, ACCC, which was launched March 16, is doing is trying to change Arizona gun laws. Instead, she described the campaign as an effort to stop “gun violence.”

“Stopping gun violence takes courage, the courage to do what’s right, the courage of new ideas,” Giffords said to a Phoenix audience as she announced the campaign. “I’ve seen great courage when my life was on the line. Now is the time to come together to be responsible. Democrats, Republicans, everyone, we must never stop fighting.”

“Fight, fight, fight,” she added. “Be bold, be courageous. The nation’s counting on you.”

Giffords was shot in the head during a public appearance in Tucson in 2011. She was among 12 people who were injured in the attack. Six died. Giffords still suffers from partial paralysis and has difficulty speaking.

The Arizona Coalition for Common Sense is the second spin-off from Giffords and Kelly’s umbrella gun-control lobbying organization, Americans for Responsible Solutions. The ACCS follows the first group that branched off from ARS, Veterans Coalition for Common Sense.

Overall, the ACCS claimed in a press release that its members — described as a bipartisan coalition that included gun owners — would not only “urge their elected officials to keep guns out of the wrong hands,” but also “protect the right of law-abiding Americans to own firearms.”

Among the goals of the ACCS is legislation that would force everyone in Arizona who wants to own a gun to pass a background check – the same background check that Jared Loughner, the man who shot Gifford and others, was able to pass to buy his weapon.

Kelly said the ACCS would also lobby for legislation to make sure people convicted of domestic abuse can’t lay their hands on a gun, and “ensure lawmakers and stakeholders have the information and training they need to prevent gun violence and strengthen existing laws.”

“We’re here to say that it’s time for our leaders to do more to address the gun violence crisis that’s tearing communities apart and that makes our country and this state stand out in the worst of ways,” Kelly said. “We also all know that as Arizonans we have a strong and proud tradition of responsible gun ownership. But we also have a serious gun violence problem.”

The Arizona Legislature has been dealing with gun legislation this year, but it isn’t the kind of action Giffords and Kelly want to see in the state. Most of the legislation would expand gun ownership rights by stopping local governments from enacting their own gun-control legislation.

Two of the bills would make it easier to fire a gun in an urban area and repeal the state’s ban on celebrations that included randomly shooting weapons into the air.

The Arizona Citizens Defense League has tracked eight proposed bills that all deal with making it easier to shoot, buy and sell weapons in the current legislative session.

Five days after Giffords and Kelly announced the formation of the ACCS, an Arizona House committee approved legislation meant to stop state and local officials from forcing background checks on firearms sold at gun shows or person-to-person.

SB 1122, which has been approved by the Senate, would apply to all private property transfers including the sale of guns.

It was written by Sierra Vista, Ariz., resident Jere Fredenburgh. She told the House Federalism, Property Rights and Public Policy committee she was inspired by universal background check legislation approved in the states of Washington and Oregon.

“I’m asking the legislature to champion personal property rights,” she said. “I have to believe everyone in this room wants that choice to be able to dispose of their personal property as they see fit.”

Another gun-rights proposal that made it through the Senate in February and has advanced to the full House would allow private business owners to decide if they wanted their customers to be allowed to carry guns.

SB 1159 would also hold a business owner who posted a “no guns” sign in his window as potentially liable for simple negligence if violence broke out and customers could not defend themselves.

Kelly admitted that the Arizona Coalition for Common Sense faces an uphill road. He said the biggest roadblock on the ACCS’ journey would be the culture of Arizona.

“It’s the West,” Kelly said. “So it does get a little trickier. We are not ignorant to that fact, that these things are a little harder here.”