January 31, 2013

In gun debate, search for middle ground becomes stand your ground

Giffords' plea for curbs rivets a Senate hearing

By ALAN FRAM The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

Former US Rep. Gifford sits next to husband retired Navy Captain Mark Kelly during gun control hearing in Washington
click image to enlarge

Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, flanked by her husband, Mark Kelly, delivers her opening remarks Wednesday at a Senate Judiciary panel hearing about guns and violence.

Reuters

Wayne LaPierre
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NRA leader Wayne LaPierre testifies at Wednesday’s hearing on Capitol Hill.

The Associated Press

Democrats countered that a need to improve gun restrictions was obvious. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said omitting gun limits from the debate "is like not including cigarettes when discussing lung cancer."

Republicans and the NRA are not the only hurdles Democrats face in trying to push gun legislation through Congress this year. It is also unclear what several Democratic senators facing re-election in GOP-leaning states in 2014 will do, including Sens. Max Baucus of Montana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the committee's chairman, said he hoped his panel would write gun-control legislation next month, though he did not specify what it might contain. In his opening remarks, he voiced support for requiring broader background checks that would help keep criminals and the mentally ill from obtaining firearms, and he has also introduced legislation that would make it a federal crime for someone to purchase a gun for a person who would not be legally allowed to have one.

Reflecting the emotion that the gun issue taps into nationwide, Wednesday's 3½-hour hearing featured numerous clashes between senators and some of the witnesses who testified.

"You are a large man," Gayle Trotter, a senior fellow with the conservative Independent Women's Forum, told Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., as he questioned her about gun curbs he favors. "You are not a young mother who has a young child" she might have to defend, she said.

At other points, Democrats on the panel contested LaPierre's argument that criminals would simply ignore expanded requirements for background checks. Such checks are currently required for gun purchases from licensed dealers, but not some firearms bought in conjunction with gun shows or online.

"That's the point. The criminals will not go to purchase the guns because there'll be a background check. It will stop them from original purchase. You missed that point completely. It is basic," said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois.

Under questioning from Leahy, LaPierre said that in a reversal, his organization no longer supports universal background checks for gun purchasers as it did years ago.

"Back in '99 you said, 'No loopholes, nowhere,'" said Leahy, referring to testimony delivered more than a decade ago. "Now you do not support background checks for all."

Giffords, a surprise witness, was helped to her chair by Leahy and others. She'd been working on her remarks for a week, but decided only Tuesday evening to deliver them, said Pia Carusone, her former chief of staff who is now executive director for Americans for Responsible Solutions.

Kelly recounted the January 2011 attack on Giffords and others and described her battle to regain basic skills. "Gabby's gift for speech is a distant memory," he told the senators. "She struggles to walk, and she is partially blind. Her right arm is completely paralyzed. And a year ago she left a job she loved serving the people of Arizona."

Toward the end of the hearing, Kelly said he had just gotten word of another Arizona shooting that occurred during Wednesday's session. That shooting in a Phoenix office left three people wounded. The shooter was being hunted.

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