PHOENIX -- Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and husband Mark Kelly have a message for Arizona lawmakers: Enact reasonable gun restrictions or we'll help elect people who will.
And if necessary, Kelly, co-founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions with Giffords, said the group will take its case directly to voters.
At a press conference Thursday to launch the Arizona Coalition for Common Sense, Kelly acknowledged the political hurdles here.
"Arizona is different,'' he said, with a long history of -- and relationship with -- firearms. "Arizona could be a tricky state when you consider this.''
Kelly said the first line of attack is to try to change policy. He said that involves convincing lawmakers that a majority of Arizonans want to close what some call the gun show "loophole'' that exempts people who buy weapons from another individual from having to go through the same background check as they would if purchasing a firearm from a licensed dealer.
That could prove next to impossible. In fact a bill making its way through the process this session goes in the exact opposite direction, specifically precluding local governments from imposing their own background check laws.
But Kelly, a former astronaut, said Americans for Responsible Solutions does more than just lobby. He said it has an annual budget approaching $15 million.
"And we spend a lot of that money around election time of November of even years,'' Kelly said.
"When we can't get a legislature to pass a bill that not only do we feel makes sense but that the citizens of that state overwhelmingly support, we will work really hard to elect people to the legislature that will support the bill,'' he continued. "And we've done that over and over again.''
The group also has something beyond money: Giffords herself who survived a 2011 assassination attempt at a Tucson event with constituents, an incident that killed six others.
And if lobbying and working to oust certain legislators doesn't work, Kelly said the possibility remains to craft their own measures and seek to have them approved at the ballot box. He said the group was involved in successful ballot measures for universal background checks in Washington, California and Nevada.
Still, Kelly said he would prefer not to travel that route in Arizona.
"The best approach would be for us to initially meet with the folks in the legislature and do our own lobbying for these bills that, as I said, 82 percent of Arizonans support,'' he said. "Ultimately, if that doesn't work, use our other options.''
Kelly said he and Giffords also want to meet with Gov. Doug Ducey. But he sidestepped a question of whether he believes the governor would be receptive to his group's message,
"Not on this issue, but just generically, I have found the governor to be a thoughtful person who people can work with,'' Kelly responded.
"I'm looking forward at some point to meet with him on this issue and explain these things to him,'' he continued. "You know, we may have some things in common on the issue.''
The only gun-related measure Ducey ever vetoed was a proposal to tie Arizona's gun laws to what other states adopt. But even in that case the governor reasserted he is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, saying he wants Arizona to "continue to chart its own course'' on gun laws.
Kelly acknowledged Ducey's record.
"So we will discuss that if I get the opportunity to speak to him about that.''
During the press conference, Kelly rattled off figures he said prove the need for regulations.
"From 2001 through 2010, 3,303 people were murdered by guns in Arizona alone,'' he said. And Kelly argued that number could be brought down with new gun laws, including mandatory background checks.
"In the states and the District of Columbia that already require background checks for all gun sales, specifically for hand gun sales, 46 percent fewer women are shot to death by their partners,'' he said. "There are 48 percent fewer firearm suicides and 48 percent fewer law enforcement officers are shot to death by hand guns.''
But Dave Kopp who lobbies for the Arizona Citizens Defense League which is behind most of the measures liberalizing gun laws, said equating gun violence with the lack of background checks is "a false equivalent.''
Kopp said the federal government does millions of such checks every year and rejects just 2 percent. And most of those, he said, are mistakes and the gun sale eventually goes through.
And Kopp rejected the contention that those who know they can't pass a federal background check will seek out weapons in private sales, including at gun shows.
"People who are looking to buy guns illegally are buying them illegally,'' he said, saying all background checks do is impose additional hurdles on law-abiding citizens. "A criminal is going to buy a gun whether he goes through a law-abiding citizen or not.''
Other than blocking local background checks, measure going through the process this session include providing additional protections from civil suit for businesses that let patrons bring their weapons in their establishments, immunizing people from prosecution for what they claim are accidental discharges of firearms, and permitting people to use a certain type of small caliber ammunition in city limits.
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