Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, center, holds hands with her husband, Mark Kelly, while exiting Town Hall at Fairfield Hills Campus in Newtown, Conn., after meeting with Newtown officials.
TUCSON, Ariz. — Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband launched a political action committee aimed at curbing gun violence on Tuesday as her Arizona hometown paused to mark the second anniversary of a deadly shooting rampage that left her with severe injuries.
Tucson residents rang bells at 10:11 a.m. — the moment a mentally ill gunman opened fire on Giffords as she met with constituents in 2011, killing six people and leaving 12 others injured. Mayor Jonathan Rothschild rang a bell at a fire station 19 times — one for each victim.
At the same time, two politicians on opposite ends of the gun debate held dueling weapons buy-backs outside a police station. Such events have been held around the country since the shooting at a Connecticut school that revived the gun control debate.
City Councilman Steve Kozachik asked people to turn in their guns for a $50 gift certificate from Safeway — the grocery store chain that owned the supermarket that was the site of the shooting. He wants to get guns out of people’s home and bring pressure on politicians to change gun laws.
About 200 firearms, many of them old, some inoperable, were turned in during the event, Tucson police said. They were set to be destroyed later in the day. Kozachik said he handed out about $10,000 worth of grocery gift certificates.
“We inherited the guns, and we had no use for them,” said Jason Munday, who traded in two old rifles. “Figured we’d just get them out of the house.”
In response to the event, a Republican outgoing state senator organized a gathering outside the same station where about a dozen people offered cash for guns. Several people waved signs and held up money to approaching drivers to announce that they would buy their weapons.
Giffords also took a prominent role in the gun debate on the anniversary. She and husband Mark Kelly, a former astronaut, wrote in an op-ed published in USA Today that their Americans for Responsible Solutions initiative would help raise money to support greater gun control efforts.
“Achieving reforms to reduce gun violence and prevent mass shootings will mean matching gun lobbyists in their reach and resources,” the couple wrote in the column. They said that it will “raise funds necessary to balance the influence of the gun lobby.”
The move was hinted at in Kelly’s recent comments that he and Giffords want to become a prominent voice for gun control efforts.
The couple last week visited Newtown, Conn., where a gunman opened fire in an elementary school, killing 20 children and six adults in December. They also met with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire who has spent some of his fortune in recent years on gun control efforts.
The couple was expected to discuss the initiative in an interview airing Tuesday on ABC News.
The network offered a preview of the interview Monday and during “Good Morning America” on Tuesday. Kelly described a meeting with a father of a Connecticut victim in which he “just about lost it” after the parent showed him a picture of his child.
When asked by Diane Sawyer about when such violence happens to school children, Giffords responded: “Enough.”
In the op-ed piece, Kelly and Giffords discussed what they deem lawmakers’ inaction on curbing gun violence.
“In response to a horrific series of shootings that has sown terror in our communities, victimized tens of thousands of Americans, and left one of its own bleeding and near death in a Tucson parking lot, Congress has done something quite extraordinary — nothing at all,” Giffords and Kelly wrote in the op-ed.
“This country is known for using its determination and ingenuity to solve problems, big and small. Wise policy has conquered disease, protected us from dangerous products and substances, and made transportation safer. But when it comes to protecting our communities from gun violence, we’re not even trying — and for the worst of reasons.”
They hope to start a national conversation about gun violence and raise funds for political activity, so “legislators will no longer have reason to fear the gun lobby.”
As a House member, Giffords was a centrist Democrat who represented much of liberal-leaning Tucson but also more conservative, rural areas. She voiced support for gun rights and said she owned a Glock pistol. In the editorial, the couple mentioned they own two guns that are locked in a safe at their house.
At the gun events in Tucson, Kozachik said that as the shooting fades from the public’s mind, issues like controlling the sale of large-capacity magazines and keeping guns from the mentally ill need attention.
“This gave us the opportunity to keep the conversation going on a very sensitive day in this community,” he said after the event.
Frank Antenori organized his own event, offering cash for guns and noting that a $50 gift certificate is way too low of a price for valuable weapons.
Antenori and Kozachik accused each other of acting out of political motivations. Antenori said the councilman was sullying both the Tucson and Connecticut school shooting victims by the timing of the buyback. Kozachik said the outgoing legislator was just trying to keep his name in the news and remain relevant.
Antenori didn’t stick around, while Kozachik stayed until the event ended at noon.
He said the cash-for-guns scheme in the police department parking lot only served to bolster his argument that firearms laws need to be enhanced. At his event, police documented each gun turned in, took down names of those dropping them off and checked to be sure they were legal before loading the weapons into a truck for destruction.
Just a few hundred feet away, men holding signs reading “Cash for Guns” bought rifles and handguns with no paperwork, no questions asked.
“We have a fundamental hole in the private sales of guns. You can walk up right in front of a cop and buy a gun, no background check, nothing,” Kozachik said. “How much more flawed can the system be?”
Those buying the guns refused to comment, citing fear of retaliation.
Tom Ditsch, who stood watching both events, said neither accomplished anything.
“Every gun that came in was an old gun, no assault weapons,” he said with disgust. “They didn’t even take any weapons off the streets that they wanted to.”
Tucson residents held events over the weekend to mark the anniversary of the Saturday morning when Loughner opened fire with a pistol with a 30-round magazine that he emptied in just 40 seconds. He pleaded guilty in November and was sentenced to seven consecutive life sentences plus 140 years.
Daniel Hernandez, a former Giffords intern who at the time of the shooting helped save her life by trying to stop her bleeding until an ambulance arrived, criticized lawmakers for not doing enough since the attack. “There’s no excuse for standing back and saying we’re not going to do anything this time,” he said.
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