OLYMPIA — Former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords testified before the Washington State House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday afternoon, symbolically casting her story of surviving a gunshot wound to the head as an argument for lawmakers to adopt expand background-check requirements to cover all gun sales.
Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, testified in support of Initiative 594, which would expand the checks now required only for sales from licensed firearm dealers.
Kelly said the initiative would save lives by helping prevent criminals and dangerously mentally ill residents from obtaining firearms. He added it would not infringe on the Second Amendment.
Kelly, who has previously testified in Colorado, Nevada and Delaware, also played up his Washington connections, noting he used to live in the state and mentioning Seattle’s May 2012 Cafe Racer shooting before mentioning several more recent tragedies.
“Since celebrating the new year, America has seen a school shooting every other day,” he said.
In her brief remarks, Giffords told committee members to “be courageous.”
“The nation is counting on you,” she said.
The couple were among hundreds of people who came here for the 1:30 p.m. hearing on Initiative 594 and Initiative 591, which would keep the current system in place unless a new national standard is established.
Both initiatives are starting in Olympia, but because of the divided Legislature are expected to end up on the November ballot.
At the hearing, Initiative 591 sponsor Alan Gottlieb and other Second Amendment activists repeatedly argued that universal background checks would burden law-abiding gun owners but not do any good because criminals would simply avoid the checks.
“The law is not so much directed at criminals as it is at law-abiding citizens,” said Phil Shave, executive director of the Washington Arms Collectors, which hosts gun shows. “It would affect millions of our citizens and, in my opinion, accomplish nothing.”
Second Amendment activists, some of whom took advantage of their right in Washington to carry firearms openly, wore white stickers with a red cross through the word “Gun Control.” Supporters of Initiative 594 wore blue and red stickers that said “Save Lives. Reduce Crime.”
Most attendees were not able to get into the small hearing room, instead cramming into the hallway or an overflow room.
Some came just to get a glimpse of Giffords, a Democrat who was shot at a January 2011 public appearance in Tucson in which six other people were killed and a dozen injured. She eventually retired from Congress and founded an organization with Kelly to promote universal background checks across the country.
Giffords’ appearance on Tuesday marked the second time she has become involved in the gun debate in Washington state. Last year, she called at least one state House member to try to persuade her to support universal background checks.
The call — and the bill — ultimately failed.
In an interview after his testimony, Kelly said he and Giffords have not yet decided how involved to be in Washington’s initiative fight.
“We’re looking at a lot of options,” he said.