Gabby Giffords steps into New Mexico firearms debate

Associated Press
Former U.S. Congresswoman and mass shooting survivor Gabrielle Giffords, left, talks with Democratic New Mexico Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto in Santa Fe, N.M., on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017.

SANTA FE — Former Congresswoman and mass shooting survivor Gabrielle Giffords and her national advocacy group for gun safety stepped into a tense debate Wednesday at the New Mexico Legislature about proposals to expand background checks on nearly all commercial firearms transactions and to restrict access to guns temporarily in domestic violence situations.

Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group co-founded by Giffords and her husband after she was severely wounded in a 2011 attack in Arizona that killed six others, announced a new statewide coalition designed to build backing for gun-safety legislation, particularly among gun owners, law enforcement officials and military veterans.

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"Stopping gun violence takes courage, the courage to do what is right, the courage of new ideas," said Giffords, in brief comments at a news conference. "Now is the time to come together, be responsible. Democrats, Republicans — everyone."

Giffords joined in a public discussion at a conference room in the Capitol about efforts to reduce gun violence alongside local and state prosecutors, a county sheriff and local advocates for new gun regulations.

The New Mexico Legislature is considering two high-profile initiatives designed to reduce gun violence — a unique position among states this year, according to Robin Lloyd, director of governmental affairs for Americans for Responsible Solutions.

"New Mexico lawmakers have the opportunity to pass life-saving bills this session," said Lloyd, whose group is actively meeting with legislators.

One Democrat-sponsored initiative would expand background checks against a federal database to nearly all private firearms transactions, with exceptions for transfers between relatives or briefly lending a gun for hunting, sport shooting or situations of imminent danger. An unlicensed gun buyer and seller would go to a federally licensed dealer to complete a background check for a fee before a sale can be completed.

Another bill would require guns to be surrendered in domestic violence situations where a protective order has been issued. Firearms would be turned over for safekeeping to law enforcement, a federally licensed gun dealer or an individual that has undergone a federal background check.

Bills under both initiatives are undergoing revisions in attempts to address criticism before they reach a full House or Senate vote. Opponents of background-check legislation, including the New Mexico Sheriffs' Association and many Republican lawmakers, say it would not deter convicted criminals from obtaining stolen weapons on the black market, while placing new obligation on legitimate gun buyers.

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Rep. Harry Garcia, D-Grants, who represents a sprawling rural district anchored in western New Mexico, described an outpouring of opposition to the background-check bill from his constituents. Garcia said he has made hundreds of phone calls to ensure that email complaints are authentic.

"People just don't want to have people infringe upon their rights" to access firearms, he said Wednesday. "They are so afraid that once it starts, it will never stop."

The firearms proposals in New Mexico have been the focus of intensive lobbying campaigns from the gun industry through the National Rifle Association and by the gun-safety group Everytown for Gun Safety, steered by media mogul and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Neither of those groups participated in Wednesday's events.

Former U.S. Congresswoman and mass shooting survivor Gabrielle Giffords, left, greets an admirer at the Statehouse in Santa Fe, N.M., on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017.