Last week, on the two-year anniversary of the shooting rampage that left six dead and 13 wounded in Tucson, Gabby Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, announced that they were launching Americans for Responsible Solutions, a political action committee designed to "encourage elected officials to stand up for solutions to prevent gun violence and protect responsible gun ownership by communicating directly with the constituents that elect them." The Weekly talked with Kelly about plans for the new organization.
What was it like to travel to Newtown with Gabby?
It was hard to walk into a house crowded with people and every time you turned around, you walked into a couple who lost their first-grader in a classroom. And there were parents, brothers and sisters of the adults who died, too. It was very sad. We certainly don't have any answers for them about how this could happen or why it continues to happen, but I think some of them appreciated that we made the trip there.
What are you and Gabby hoping to accomplish with Americans for Responsible Solutions?
Ultimately, passing some common-sense gun-violence legislation—stuff like a universal background check. Right now, in most places in the country, you can go to a gun show and buy a firearm without your background being known, which makes it very easy for a criminal or the mentally ill to get a gun. We think that part of the responsibility of being a gun owner is to have a background check before you purchase a gun. I bought a gun from Walmart a few months ago. I had to fill out some paperwork and I had to stand there for about 30 minutes. If that's what all responsible gun owners must do to prevent criminals or the mentally ill from having easy access to firearms, well, I think that's what we need to do.
There are critics who say your call for more background checks and restrictions on high-capacity magazines is an attack on the Second Amendment.
Gabby and I are as strong supporters of the Second Amendment as anybody out there. I served 25 years in the military. I've flown in combat. I've been shot at. I've carried a gun into work. Gabby owns a gun. So do I. ... I don't think you could find two people who support the Second Amendment more than Gabby and I. But this doesn't have anything to do with the Second Amendment. High-capacity magazines are a public-safety issue, as are assault weapons, as are background checks. So I don't buy that argument. You can go on our website—one our goals is to protect the Second Amendment.
It sounds like one of the things you'll be involved with is political campaigns and helping candidates who support the same kinds of reforms that you're calling for.
We're going to support candidates who support common-sense solutions to gun violence. We hope to encourage members of Congress to do the right thing. For a very long time, the gun lobby has had a lot of influence on Capitol Hill. They will continue to have a tremendous amount of influence, but I think what happened in Newtown was the clarion call that we just can't put out a statement every time one of these things happens. First of all, they're happening too frequently. And it's unacceptable to have 20 first-graders killed in their classrooms, along with six of their teachers and administrators, and for us as a nation to do nothing about it. That is unacceptable.
Here in Arizona, we've seen government officials call for arming principals and teachers. Do you think that's a viable solution?
No, I don't at all, actually. I've been shot at on 39 different occasions flying in combat over Iraq and Kuwait. If you haven't had that type of experience—and most of the people who call for that kind of solution have not had that type of experience—you don't realize how chaotic it is when somebody is trying to kill you. I've had multiple conversations with friends of mine who have been in Seal Team 6 and they feel that putting a security guard (in the school) or arming a teacher or principal is as inept a solution as I think it is. Because when somebody walks through the door with an assault weapon with a high-capacity magazine, who is often mentally ill, with the intent to murder a lot of people, teachers with guns are barely going to slow them down. We've seen that at Columbine. It has very little of an effect.
On a personal note, how are you enjoying the move to Tucson?
It's great. I lived in Houston, Texas, for 16 years. I loved living in Houston. It's a great place that has a lot to offer. But it's great to have Gabby home in Tucson. Often, after I drop my daughter Claire off at school in the morning, I'll go for a hike up in Sabino Canyon for an hour and half. There are not many places in this country where you can be in a city the size of Tucson and within a 15-minute drive, you can be in a place as beautiful as Sabino Canyon. I really enjoy it. Gabby really loves being back. It's her home.