Posted: Jan 30, 2013 9:09 AM by Lucy Madison - CBS News
Updated: Jan 30, 2013 12:44 PM
In remarks kicking off today's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., made a defiant call for Congress to "be bold" and "act" on gun violence.
"Too many children are dying," she said. "We must do something."
Giffords, who survived a gunshot to the head two years ago during an assassination attempt that left six people dead, read slowly but forcefully from prepared remarks, and acknowledged that "speaking is difficult."
"But I need to say something important. Violence is a big problem," she said. "It will be hard. But the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be Courageous. Americans are counting on you."
Today's congressional hearing marks the first on gun control since President Obama proposed sweeping reforms to help tackle escalating gun violence in the United States, and the Senate Judiciary Committee's first legislative hearing in the new Congress.
Mark Kelly, Giffords' husband, followed up his wife's remarks with an impassioned entreaty for bipartisan action to prevent gun violence. He stressed that both he and Giffords are gun owners, and that they support the "right to own a firearm for protection, collection and recreation."
"Gabby and i are pro-gun ownership. But we are also anti-gun violence," he said. "When dangerous people get dangerous guns, we are all the more vulnerable."
The longstanding debate over the nation's gun laws has taken on renewed resonance in recent weeks, in the aftermath of a mass shooting last month that left 20 first-graders and six adult faculty members dead at a small-town elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
Since then, Mr. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have vowed to enact meaningful change to reduce gun violence in America, and consulted stakeholders from all sides of the debate on how to best to achieve that goal. In unveiling his findings from that process earlier this month, Mr. Obama proposed a series of sweeping new laws, including the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, universal background checks on gun buyers, and a ban on high-capacity magazine ammunition.
A spokesperson for Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., told CBSNews.com yesterday that the purpose today's hearings is to have a "respectful and productive conversation" about "where there is potential for success in passing legislation this year."
"Americans are looking to us for solutions and for action," Leahy said in his opening remarks this morning. "This committee is a focal point for that process."
While gun control advocates and many Democrats have applauded the White House for its action on this issue, it's unclear which of these proposals -- if any -- can make it through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. And the pro-gun lobby has already begun using its considerable resources to target the president's proposals.
In prepared testimony released before the hearing by the NRA, the organization's CEO and Executive Vice President, Wayne LaPierre, made the case that efforts to curb gun violence should be focused strengthening school security and mental health resources. He also predicted Mr. Obama's proposals to introduce a universal background check and reinstate the assault weapons ban "will fail."
"Law-abiding gun owners will not accept blame for the acts of violent or deranged criminals, nor do we believe the government should dictate what we can lawfully own and use to protect our families," LaPierre will say. "We need to be honest about what works and what does not work. Proposals that would only serve to burden the law-abiding have failed in the past and will fail in the future."
Meanwhile, a handful of Republican senators expressed dismay at the fact that they weren't allowed to bring unarmed weapons into the hearing for purposes of educating "fellow Senators and members of the public how and why firearms are used by millions of law-abiding Americans for self-defense, hunting, and sporting purposes."
"Our offices worked with various officials in local and federal law enforcement, as well as the Senate Sergeant at Arms, but it appears that the requirements to secure the weapons at the hearing are so impractical as to be unworkable," said Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Ted Cruz, R-Tex., in a joint press statement.
Other witnesses at the hearing will be James Johnson, chief of police for Baltimore County, Md., and chairman of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence; Nicholas Johnson, a law professor at Fordham University School of Law, and Gayle Trotter, an attorney and senior fellow of the Independent Women's Forum.
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