Gabrielle Giffords appeals to Washington state lawmakers on gun control

SEATTLE — Both sides wielded persuasive statistics at the Washington state Capitol on Tuesday. Both sides made high-minded arguments about protecting constitutional rights during a packed and emotional hearing on gun control.

But only one side had Gabrielle Giffords.

She barely spoke for a full minute. Sometimes her words were halting and hard to understand. But when Giffords raised her left fist and urged legislators and voters alike to "Fight! Fight! Fight!" her message was unmistakable.

The former Arizona congresswoman, now 43, resigned in 2012, a year after a mentally ill gunman went on a rampage in the parking lot of a Tucson Safeway while Giffords met with constituents. Giffords and 12 others were wounded, and six were killed. Giffords sustained a gunshot wound to the head that left her partially paralyzed and nearly unable to speak.

The gun-owning Democrat has spent the last three years engaged in two fierce battles — the return to health and the passage of gun control legislation. On Tuesday in Olympia, Wash., Giffords showed how far she had come in the first and how serious she is about the second.

"The last few years have been hard," she told the state House Judiciary Committee during an afternoon hearing on two dueling gun measures. "Stopping gun violence takes courage. The courage to do what's right. The courage of new ideas."

With her husband, retired astronaut Mark E. Kelly, by her side, Giffords urged legislators to pass Initiative 594, which would expand background checks for gun buyers.

"Now is the time to come together, be responsible, Democrats, Republicans, everyone. We must never stop fighting," she said. "Be bold. Be courageous. The nation is counting on you."

If the Legislature does not act on Initiatives 591 and 594 — and political watchers doubt that they will — both would be on the November ballot for voters to decide.

Initiative 591 would effectively prohibit background checks for sales or transfers of firearms between private parties and would make it "unlawful for any government agency to confiscate guns or other firearms from citizens without due process."

Initiative 594 would require background checks whenever a firearm is sold or transferred between licensed dealers or private parties, with few exceptions. Any sale or transfer of a firearm must be completed through a dealer.

Brian Judy, a liaison to several Western states for the National Rifle Assn., called Initiative 594 "a universal handgun registration scheme" that would result in government overreach.

"I-594 would not prevent criminals from obtaining firearms," Judy said. "It's going to create an excessive regulatory scheme that would disproportionately burden law-abiding firearms purchasers and sellers. And, most egregiously, it's going to create a massive database of law-abiding handgun owners. We urge your opposition to this misguided measure."

The initiative, he said, is not about universal background checks, because "criminals will ignore the law and continue to acquire firearms where most criminals obtain firearms now — the black market, theft, straw purchasers and illegal sources such as through drug dealers."

Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, called Initiative 591 "a common-sense background-check measure" because it would prohibit state regulations that do not conform with federal law. Under current federal law, background checks are required for sales by licensed dealers to unlicensed buyers. Private exchanges are exempt.

The legislative hearing on the two Washington initiatives occurred three days after a 19-year-old gunman opened fire at a Maryland mall, killing two young clerks at a skateboard shop before turning the gun on himself.

Saturday's mall incident capped a week in which there were six shootings, lockdowns or gun-related scares in public places over six days, mostly at schools. Five people died, including the mall gunman, and a sixth was critically wounded. All were between 19 and 25 years old.

Kelly noted that 2014 had had a deadly start.

"Since celebrating the new year, America has seen a school shooting every other day," he said. "We are all vulnerable, just like Gabby and her constituents were at the Safeway in Tucson."

Then he introduced his wife as "the woman who reminds me each and every day to deny the acceptance of failure."

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