PHOENIX — Arizona residents will mark the two-year anniversary of the 2011 shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Tuesday with bells ringing across Tucson amid a heated national debate over gun control.
Bells are expected to toll across Tucson two years to the minute after a mentally ill gunman opened fire at a supermarket where Giffords was meeting with constituents. The rampage killed six and wounded Giffords and a dozen others.
The anniversary comes against the backdrop of the Connecticut mass shooting that has led Giffords and her husband to call for greater gun control efforts. She and husband Mark Kelly are to appear in a television interview Tuesday with ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer.
ABC said Giffords and Kelly will talk about a new initiative they’re launching. The network didn’t specify what the initiative would aim to do, but Kelly has become an outspoken advocate for gun control after the shooting.
The network offered a preview of the interview Monday. 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 what can be said after a mass shooting kills children in a classroom, Giffords offered up a one-word response: “enough.”
The gun control debate will play out in Tucson on the anniversary as well.
City Councilman Steve Kozachik has organized a gun turn-in program at a local police station Tuesday for people who have decided they no longer want weapons in the homes. He’s hoping it helps bring added pressure as Congress and Arizona’s legislature come back into session to “keep the conversation” alive.
People giving up their guns will receive $50 gift cards from Safeway — the grocery store chain where Giffords was shot in the parking lot during a meet-and-greet. The grocer contributed $1,000 of the nearly $10,000 Kozachik raised.
He 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 to get attention.
The event has angered local gun-rights advocates, including an outgoing state senator who plans to gather outside the station and offer people cash instead.
“They’re stealing it — stealing it,” said Frank Antenori, a Republican who was defeated in a congressional primary bid last year. “Can you name me one firearm in working condition that’s worth $50 or less?”
Antenori and Kozachik accused each other of acting out of purely 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.
Tucson residents also held events over the weekend to mark the anniversary of that Saturday morning when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire on the political event with a pistol with a 30-round magazine that he emptied in just 40 seconds.
Rep. Ron Barber, then a Giffords aide, was shot in the thigh and cheek, and went on to replace his boss in Congress. He supports an outright ban on high-capacity magazines and a new federal assault weapons ban while acknowledging there are millions of both already in circulation that will remain there.
“There’s no way that those are going to be taken or collected – there’s no way that’s possible,” Barber said Monday. “But if we can move forward toward controlling the accessibility or access to those magazines or assault rifles we can go a long way to minimizing or possibly preventing future tragedies.”
Barber also is pushing for better mental health care and early intervention into school bullying, which he said can lead to serious mental health issues.
“I think it’s a very complicated issue and no one or two or even three steps are going to address it or get rid of mass shooting in the future,” Barber said.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican who vetoed GOP-sponsored bills twice in two years that would have allowed guns on school campuses and in public buildings, said Monday she’s expecting more legislation in the wake of the Connecticut shooting, but she offered no suggestions.
“It will be something that I’m sure will be addressed in the Legislature and my ears are all open, and I’m certainly anxious if there is a solution that we get it done,” she said.
Loughner pleaded guilty in the Tucson shooting in November and was sentenced to seven consecutive life sentences plus 140 years.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.