Originally published March 10, 2013 in The Commonwealth Times
Assistant News Editor
The concepts of joint gun advocacy and control are rarely supported by victims of tragic shootings. But both ideas, through the efforts of former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, were discussed at a Richmond Forum event on Saturday.
Giffords and Kelly recently announced a new gun control initiative, Americans for Responsible Reform, to help lobby elected officials to work for gun reform.
Kelly and Giffords still support the right to own guns. Kelly said he is a self-proclaimed Second Amendment supporter but an outspoken advocate of universal background checks. Both Kelly and Giffords are gun owners, although they strongly support limiting the access of guns to criminals and people with certain mental illnesses.
“It should not be an option for a criminal to get a gun,” Kelly said.
Kelly also spoke out against the issue of allowing guns on college campuses.
“I don’t want them to be walking around campus with a gun. Kids their age are barely responsible to keep it together,” he said. “It’s a big mistake … There’s got to be a reasonable approach to it.”
Giffords, a survivor of an assassination attempt and a shot to the head two years ago, walked confidently onto the stage during the event, escorted by her husband. Giffords and Kelly have been working since the attack to raise awareness towards the reform of gun laws.
“It’s been a long, hard haul, but I’m getting better,” Giffords said, speaking slowly. “My spirit is stronger than ever.”
She has difficulty walking on her own and also suffers from aphasia, a condition that affects her ability to speak. Tasks that used to be easy for Giffords, like making speeches to large crowds, have now become much more challenging, Kelly said.
Kelly also said he shares his wife’s optimism.
“The guy that shot her may have put a bullet in her head, but he has not put a dent in her spirit,” he said.
Giffords was at a Congressman on the Corner event at a local Safeway in Arizona on Jan. 8, 2011 when a gunman opened fire. Six people were killed and 16 others were injured from the attack. A bullet entered the left side of Giffords’ head and exited through the back of her skull, fracturing both her eye sockets. After three brain surgeries, she is left with permanent damage.
Kelly, an astronaut who has traveled to space four times and flown in multiple combat missions during his time in the Navy, said afterward, “As Gabby entered Congress in 2007, I thought I had the riskier job … I thought to myself, did this happen? Is this possible?”
Yvette Rajput, director of the Armstrong Leadership Program at Armstrong High School attended the forum with some of her students and said safety in schools is a major concern for her students, many of whom have been personally affected by gun violence.
“(In an) urban setting, they know someone who has been murdered by a gun, or a family member,” Rajput said. “Having participated in an event like this … it empowers them.”