WASHINGTON - Severely wounded and still recovering, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords begged lawmakers at an emotional hearing Wednesday to act quickly to curb firearms because "Americans are counting on you." Not everyone agreed, underscoring the national political divide over gun control.
Giffords' 80-word plea was the day's most riveting moment, delivered in a hushed, halting voice two years after the Arizona Democrat suffered head wounds in a Tucson shooting spree that killed six people - and two months after 20 first-graders and six women were slain by a gunman who invaded Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. She retired from Congress last year.
But at the same session, a top official of the National Rifle Association rejected Democratic proposals to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines and said requiring background checks for all gun purchases would be ineffective because the Obama administration isn't doing enough to enforce the law as it is.
Even if stronger background checks did identify a criminal, "as long as you let him go, you're not keeping him from getting a gun and you're not preventing him from getting to the next crime scene," said Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive vice president. He said poor enforcement is "a national disgrace."
Giffords, in her brief appearance, focused on the carnage from armed assailants.
"Too many children are dying," she said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. "Too many children. We must do something. It will be hard, but the time is now."
Guiding her in and remaining to testify was Mark Kelly, the retired astronaut who is Giffords' husband. The couple, who both owns guns, have formed a political action committee called Americans for Responsible Solutions that backs lawmakers who support gun restrictions.
"We're simply two reasonable Americans who realize we have a problem with gun violence and we need Congress to act," Kelly said.
Senators' remarks during the hearing illustrated the gulf between the two parties on this issue.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, joined others in lauding Giffords but expressed little interest in curbing firearms.