Gun Control Debate Heating Up in U.S. as Giffords Launches Group to Combat NRA

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Gun control debate heating up in U.S.

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WASHINGTON - Two years ago, Gabrielle Giffords became an unwitting symbol of the scourge of gun violence in the United States when a would-be assassin shot the Arizona congresswoman in the head, killing six others in the process.

Giffords, after all, a Democratic lawmaker, had defended the constitutionally enshrined right of Americans to bear arms. She and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, even own two guns themselves, locked in a safe in their home.

But that was then, this is now -- America in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting, one that took a particularly terrible toll.

Twenty first grade pupils were among the 26 victims in small-town Connecticut last month, gunned down by a troubled young man toting his well-heeled mother's assault rifle.

"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," Giffords and Kelly wrote Tuesday in an op-ed in USA Today announcing their new organization aimed at pushing for stricter gun control.

"This country is known for using its determination and ingenuity to solve problems, big and small.... But when it comes to protecting our communities from gun violence, we're not even trying -- and for the worst of reasons."

Exactly two years since the bloodshed in a Tucson parking lot, the couple has announced the formation of Americans for Responsible Solutions, a group that hopes to loosen the iron grip the powerful National Rifle Association has had on U.S. Congress for the past three decades.

The couple is calling for donations to help "encourage elected officials to stand up for solutions to prevent gun violence and protect responsible gun ownership."

"Special interests purporting to represent gun owners but really advancing the interests of an ideological fringe have used big money and influence to cow Congress into submission," they wrote.

"Rather than working to find the balance between our rights and the regulation of a dangerous product, these groups have cast simple protections for our communities as existential threats to individual liberties. Rather than conducting a dialogue, they threaten those who divert from their orthodoxy with political extinction."

Giffords and Kelly are pushing for a ban on semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Their call to action is in apparent lockstep with the White House. The U.S. capital has been abuzz for weeks about efforts in the works by the Obama administration to deliver a body blow to the NRA by bringing together law enforcement officials, business groups and religious leaders to push for comprehensive gun control.

The timing appears to be right in terms of public opinion. In the wake of the Newtown shooting, polls are suggesting the majority of Americans support tougher gun control laws, a dramatic turnaround from just a year ago.

A recent CNN survey found that 94 per cent of Americans support background checks for those buying guns, while 61 per cent back a ban on semi-automatic assault guns and high-capacity magazine clips.

President Barack Obama has tapped Vice-President Joe Biden to helm an administration-wide task force on gun violence; the president wants proposals on his desk by the end of the month. …