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Updated Jan 28, 2014 - 4:52 pm

Giffords testifies on Wash. gun initiative

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Former Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who survived
a 2011 shooting, testified Tuesday before a Washington state House panel
considering an initiative to expand firearm background checks in the state,
telling lawmakers that “the nation is counting on you.”

With her husband, retired NASA space shuttle commander Mark Kelly, sitting next
to her, Giffords spoke slowly and briefly to the panel that was taking public
testimony on Initiative 594, which seeks to require background checks for all
sales, including online sales and private transactions, such as those that occur
at gun shows. The checks would be conducted at federally licensed firearm
dealers, where people already must undergo such scrutiny before purchasing a new

“Stopping gun violence takes courage, the courage to do what’s right, the
courage of new ideas,” Giffords told the panel. “Be bold, be courageous. The
nation is counting on you.”

Giffords is still recovering from a brain injury suffered when a mentally ill
man shot her in the head as she met with constituents outside a shopping center
in Tucson, Ariz. Six people were killed in the attack.

Earlier in the day, Gov. Jay Inslee called Giffords “one of the most
courageous people I’ve ever met.”

Washington state lawmakers had considered a measure similar to I-594 during
last year’s legislative session, but it didn’t pass the House or the Senate.

The line of people signing up to testify before the committee snaked outside of
the building toward the Capitol. The House gallery of the Capitol was set up for
the large crowd that couldn’t fit into the small committee room.

I-594 does not include some of the exemptions that lawmakers had originally
been considering under last year’s legislation. For example, law enforcement
officers or people who have concealed-pistol licenses still would have to go
through background checks on private transactions under the initiative.

Brian Judy, the Washington state liaison for the National Rifle Association,
noted that several high-profile shootings, including Giffords’, were committed
by people who went through background checks.

“Along with the empathy for these victims, I feel disappointment that these
tragedies would be exploited,” he said.

Judy said that the initiative wouldn’t prevent criminals from obtaining guns
through the black market or theft, and it would only “create a massive database
of lawful handgun owners.”

“This is just not going to keep guns out of the hands of criminals,” he said.

The House Judiciary Committee also is considering Initiative 591, which would
prevent Washington state from adopting background-check laws stricter than the
national standard, which requires the checks for sales by licensed dealers but
not for purchases from private sellers. It would also prohibit confiscation of
firearms without due process.

Alan Gottlieb, chairman for Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear
Arms and a spokesman for Protect Our Gun Rights, called I-591 a “common-sense
background check measure.”

“Our mission is to ensure public safety while protecting the constitutional
civil rights of law-abiding gun owners and all citizens,” he said.

If lawmakers take no action, both initiatives go to the November ballot for
voters to decide.

Giffords also is appearing in a television ad airing before and after President
Barack Obama’s State of the Union address. In the ad, Giffords faces the camera
and says, “Congress is afraid of the gun lobby.”

The ad is part of a national cable-advertising campaign that is being paid for
by Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group Giffords founded with her
husband. It’s set to run nationwide on CNN and MSNBC.

Kelly testified that both he and his wife own guns and that they “believe
wholly and completely in the Second Amendment.”

“Rights demand responsibility,” he said. “This right should not extend to
criminals. It should not extend to the dangerously criminally ill. When
dangerous people get guns, we are all vulnerable.”


Follow Rachel La Corte at



Initiative 594:

Initiative 591:


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