RICHMOND, Va. -- Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was nearly killed in an assassination attempt in 2011, called on Virginia lawmakers to do more in the area of gun control at the launch of a new initiative Thursday.
Giffords and her husband Capt. Mark Kelly, a former astronaut, stood alongside local business, law enforcement and faith leaders to announce the formation of the the Virginia Coalition for Common Sense. The group said they will urge Virginia lawmakers to pass legislation that keeps guns out of the hands of wrongdoers without infringing on Second Amendment rights.
Giffords was shot in the head at point-blank range while meeting with her constituents in Arizona in 2011. She continues to recover from her injuries, but simultaneously has become one of the more powerful voices in the gun control debate.
"Stopping gun violence takes courage. The courage to do what's right; the courage of new ideas. I've seen great courage when my life was on the line. Now is the time to together, be responsible, Democrats, Republicans, everyone," Giffords said.
Recently, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and Republicans in the state house agreed to a "historic gun deal" that limits gun ownership for those with a protective order against them and makes it easier for state police to conduct voluntary background checks on purchases at gun shows. In return, the McAuliffe took steps to reverse a previous ruling by Attorney General Mark Herring that revoked conceal carry reciprocity agreements with 25 other states that have a less stringent background check system.
During a press conference and later at a roundtable discuss, Kelly said Virginia's lawmakers could "do more." Kelly said a person is killed by a gun in Virginia every 10 hours, and added that, according to statistics he has seen, the majority of Virginians support universal background checks on all gun purchases.
"Eighty-eight percent of Virginians agree that we should close these loopholes. You know what gets 88 percent in polls; what else polls at 88 percent? Free money and ice cream," Kelly said.
But local gun rights groups question the numbers Kelly presented Tuesday. Gun owners from the Virginia Citizen's Defense League, a gun rights lobby group that worked closely on the gun deal passed this session, were in attendance Tuesday. VCDL's prescient Phillip Van Cleave said out of the thousands of of members in their organization has never heard anyone support universal background checks.
"We just passed a bill that will become law shortly that says you can do background checks at a gun show, but already that's not good enough. We're already sliding down that slope toward universal [background] checks, which criminals don't bother to do," said Van Cleave.
Giffords and Kelly have helped launch initiatives similar to the Virginia Coalition for Common Sense in other states. Kelly said this new groups would be funded through the American for Responsible Solutions political PAC.