GABBY GIFFORDS: Aurora and I know what gun background checks are really about

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Residents of Aurora know as well as I do how quickly a place that feels safe and normal can turn dangerous and deadly when the wrong person has access to a gun.

gunControlfixedTwo years ago, standing in a grocery store parking lot in the shadow of the Santa Catalina Mountains, a mentally ill young man shot me in the head and killed six others, including a little girl. The Tucson killer had been kicked out of community college for psychotic disturbances, been denied entrance to the Army because of drug abuse, and spent months plotting my assassination. He should never have had access to a gun.

A year and a half later, your neighbors and friends excited to see a new movie were subjected to a massacre that left many dead and wounded – and scores of families shattered, as in Tucson.

Nothing we do can bring those people back – I know this well. And it is true that violence in our society and our country is a complicated problem – no one piece of legislation will bring an end to it.  But when I look at the pictures of those lost in Aurora, in Tucson, in Newtown – and at the grieving communities and families they leave behind – I know that we must act now to reduce gun violence.

In the Arizona state legislature and in Congress, I worked to defend the gun rights and traditions that my constituents and families across the American West value, Coloradans just as much as Arizonans. I fought to uphold the Second Amendment and promote responsible gun ownership. I had to leave my job after I was shot, but I won’t let a bullet stop me from using my voice to protect our rights as Americans – the Second Amendment as important as any other. And I reject the idea that taking action to reduce gun violence requires us to compromise on our liberties as Americans.

After I was shot, I focused on my recovery. But as I watched community after community struck by horrific shootings, and saw the special interests hogtie Congress, I grew frustrated. Finally, like so many of you, I said, “enough.” Like most Americans, I’m sick of the infighting in Washington – I want to see our strong, independent voices in Congress come together and solve problems. In Colorado, your state legislators have rolled up their sleeves and made changes to keep you all safer. We should expect nothing less from the Senators and Representatives we send to represent us in Washington.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans have joined me and demanded responsible solutions to reduce gun violence and protect gun rights. Together we’re saying “no” to extremists and demanding something over 90 percent of Americans support: background checks to keep guns away from dangerous people.

Background checks protect our rights and they protect our families. I own a gun, and my husband, Mark, a combat veteran and former astronaut, owns guns. My mom, who lives way out in the desert, owns a gun. For us and our neighbors, gun ownership is a part of our everyday lives. We use our guns responsibly and we know from experience how easy background checks are.

It’s the people who don’t get a background check we should worry about. Right now, criminals and the mentally ill have access, no questions asked, to the 6.6 million guns sold every year without a background check. Why? Because we have a loophole in our laws that requires a background check if you buy at the gun store, but not if you buy at the gun show or on the internet.

Proposed background checks legislation creates a tool, not an obstacle, for gun owners to responsibly exercise their rights. As the owner of a firearm, I don’t want to transfer my gun to someone who would use it irresponsibly. But now, without a background check, it’s hard to tell if someone I want to sell my weapon to is dangerous or not. The last thing I want is to transfer a gun to someone who will do harm with it.

Background checks legislation will fix that. It will make it easier for you and me to exercise our Second Amendment rights. It’s a simple, fair, and fast system– but provides peace of mind to gun owners and to the communities they care about. And it’s not going to result in anyone registering or taking our guns away.

I know what it’s like to endure unimaginable tragedy.  It is unacceptable to me not to do everything that I can to prevent other communities from going through what my community and your community in Aurora have been through. That’s why I’m asking Congress to pass comprehensive background checks. Please join me and have your voice be heard, too. Together, we can protect our proud tradition of gun ownership and independence, and keep our families safe, too.

Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords now heads Americans for Responsible Solutions, a national effort to promote legislation focusing on the reduction of gun violence.