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Can Gabby Giffords move the gun-control debate?
Giffords and her husband just launched an organization dedicated to fighting gun violence — and the gun lobby. Can her popularity topple the NRA's might?
 
Former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly after the sentencing of Tucson shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, on Nov. 8, 2012.
Former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly after the sentencing of Tucson shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, on Nov. 8, 2012. AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

In her previous life as a congresswoman from a conservative-leaning Arizona district, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) was a reliably gun-friendly legislator — in 2010, a year before she was shot in the head in a mass shooting, Giffords scored a C from the National Rifle Association. On Tuesday, she and husband Mark Kelly launched a new organization, Americans for Responsible Solutions, with a goal of countering the influence of the NRA and other "special interests purporting to represent gun owners but really advancing the interests of an ideological fringe," as they explain in an op-ed in USA Today

America has seen an astounding 11 mass shootings since a madman used a semiautomatic pistol with an extended ammunition clip to shoot me and kill six others. Gun violence kills more than 30,000 Americans annually. This country is known for using its determination and ingenuity to solve problems, big and small. Wise policy has conquered disease, protected us from dangerous products and substances, and made transportation safer. But when it comes to protecting our communities from gun violence, we're not even trying — and for the worst of reasons.... As a Western woman and a Persian Gulf War combat veteran who have exercised our Second Amendment rights, we don't want to take away your guns any more than we want to give up the two guns we have locked in a safe at home. What we do want is what the majority of NRA members and other Americans want: Responsible changes in our laws to require responsible gun ownership and reduce gun violence. [USA Today]

Giffords says that she was finally pushed into action by the massacre of 20 first graders in Newtown, Conn., last month, and her and Kelly's new organization coincides with a nascent push by the Obama administration and congressional Democrats to restrict the sale of assault-style weapons and large-capacity ammo clips and beef up background checks. But Americans for Responsible Solutions also lands in the middle of a big counter-push by newly "galvanized" gun-rights groups, including a planned "Gun Appreciation Day" hastily set up for Jan. 19. 

"We can't be naive about what it will take to achieve the most common-sense solutions," Giffords and Kelly say in USA Today. They propose raising "the funds necessary to balance the influence of the gun lobby," then providing money and political cover to "leaders who will stand up for what's right." After her debilitating brush with death, Giffords became sort of a poster child for bipartisan comity, warmly embraced by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Can the one-two punch of Sandy Hook and Giffords' advocacy actually get Congress to act?

Not likely, says Joseph Cannon at Cannonfire. Let's face it: "Polls indicate that most Americans still oppose any restrictions on the right to own firearms," and it's a bad idea to waste political capital on fight you can't win, especially if the mere mention of sensible gun-safety laws injects "'go juice' directly into the veins of the Tea Party."

It's true that "the NRA has high positive ratings in some polls," but when it comes to specific gun laws — background checks for all gun purchases, a ban on semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity clips — "the NRA is far outside the American mainstream," says Greg Sargent at The Washington Post. Still, "if the coming gun-control push is going to have success, one thing the White House and Giffords' new effort will have to accomplish is to successfully reveal that the NRA does not speak for anyone but the gun industry and a small minority of Americans." That won't be easy — this is the type of battle the cash-flush NRA typically wins. How will we know who is winning in the looming showdown?

It will be worth watching Giffords' fundraising and Congressional lobbying effort closely, to see if we're looking at a fundamentally different political dynamic this time around. The White House really does appear to be fully engaged in this battle — which, along with Giffords' new push, signals clearly that Democrats fully understand how hard a fight this is going to be. [Washington Post]

 

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