On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a much-anticipated hearing on gun violence in America, kicking off Congress' first significant effort in recent memory to address the country's gun laws. As expected, the hearing was a contentious affair, and Democrats and Republicans appeared far from agreement on the way forward, even on issues like the implementation of universal background checks that enjoy overwhelming popular support. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee chairman, urged Congress to pass stricter gun laws, saying, "Lives are at risk when responsible people fail to stand up for laws that will keep guns out of the hands of those who will use them to commit mass murder." However, the ranking Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), warned that the recent school massacre in Newtown, Conn., "should not be used to put forth every gun control measure that's been around for years." Here, 4 key highlights from the hearing:
1. Gabby Giffords speaks out
Former Rep. Gabbie Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was famously shot at point blank range by a lone gunman in 2011, was the first speaker to testify before the committee, issuing a passionate call for more gun control. "Speaking is difficult, but I need to say something important," Giffords said. "Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something. It will be hard. But the time to act is now. You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you." Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, have emerged as two of the most effective and prominent gun-control advocates in the country, and recently founded a nonprofit organization aimed at reducing gun violence.
2. Mark Kelly breaks news of another mass shooting
Kelly, a former astronaut, also called on Congress to act, citing his wife's condition. "Gabby's gift for speech is a distant memory," Kelly said. "She struggles to walk, and she is partially blind." He insisted, though, that "we aren't here as victims. We're speaking to you today as Americans." Kelly also underscored the fact that he and Giffords both own weapons and support gun rights in general. At one point, Kelly interrupted his testimony to point out that three people in Arizona had been shot and wounded during the hearing, more evidence, he suggested, that gun violence in America was out of control.
3. NRA chief LaPierre opposes new laws
Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, adamantly insisted that new gun control laws would stifle the rights of gun owners, and reiterated his proposal to staff schools across America with armed guards. "It's time to throw an immediate blanket of security around our children," he said. LaPierre said he also opposed implementing universal background checks for gun buyers, saying such a move would be pointless since "criminals will never submit to them." Kelly rebutted that claim, arguing that universal background checks would have likely prevented shooter Jared Lee Loughner from wounding Giffords and killing six others. "My wife would not have been sitting here if we had better background checks," he said. Democratic senators also pressed LaPierre, noting that the whole point of strengthening background checks would be to deter criminals from buying guns at registered gun shops.
4. Gun advocate says women need weapons for self defense
Gayle Trotter, a representative of the conservative Independent Women's Forum, testified that military-style weapons with high-capacity clips are "the great equalizer for women," and that "in a violent confrontation, guns reverse the balance of power." She argued that "using a firearm with a magazine holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition, a woman would have a fighting chance even against multiple attackers." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) concurred, saying, "Fifteen rounds in the hands of a mother trying to protect her children may not be enough."