Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I’m furious. I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe. We cannot allow the status quo—desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation—to go on.Since then, via their organization Americans for Responsible Solutions, Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, have shown that she meant what she said. Next week, the two will be on the road to seven states trying to persuade senators who voted against expanded background checks to change their minds. They'll be using polls showing strong majorities of Americans favor such checks as part of their arsenal.
The duo will start out in Nevada July 1 and subsequently visit Alaska, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota and Ohio. “Our intention is not to chastise people,” said Pia Carusone, Giffords’s longtime top aide, but rather to “draw attention to the leadership that’s needed on this issue.”
What five of those states have in common is a senator who voted against the compromise background check proposal put together by a small bipartisan group earlier this year and ultimately presented in the Senate by Democrat Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Giffords and Kelly will also visit North Carolina and Maine to thank Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican Susan Collins, respectively, for their yes votes on the background-check bill.
In Nevada, however, there's Republican Sen. Dean Heller, who won by a relatively narrow margin against his Democratic challenger in 2012. The state has a growing Latino electorate that is trending Democratic. As in every other state, support for expanded background checks in Nevada is very strong. Even in households where there is one or more member of the National Rifle Association, 69 percent favor background checks on all gun purchases.
Before the April vote, Heller was one of the senators thought to be nudgeable on background checks. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns pumped tens of thousands of dollars into an ad campaign urging Nevadans to call Heller to tell him he should approve the background-check law. He ultimately voted no, he said, because he agreed with critics who said the wording of the law would allow for the creation of a national gun registry that might in the future provide data for confiscation of firearms.
Advocates of more gun regulations, including Vice President Joe Biden, have hinted that another attempt at passing a background-check law could be made this year, perhaps as early as late summer. But so far there is no reworded proposal on the table. Presumably, when Giffords and Kelley make their visits next week, they won't just be talking but also listening for hints on what form a new background-check bill would have to take to pass muster with Heller and the four other senators who rejected the previous one.
Cynics might say that only a bill that is even more watered-down than Manchin-Toomey could be approved. But a bill that requires every gun purchase to be vetted by a federal firearms licensee, the way commercial purchases are handled now, could be promoted by pointing out its ultimate fairness to everybody. Such an approach would not require a new background-check system to be put into place as Manchin-Toomey would have done and couldn't be attacked the way that proposal was. It would just be an expansion of the existing system with no gun registry.