Gun Control Divide on Display During Senate Hearings

Wayne LaPierre, Gabby Giffords offer opposing views on curbing gun violence.

NRA leader Wayne LaPierre and former Rep. Gabby Giffords testified Wednesday about proposed gun control measures.
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Former Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, provided a stark contrast of opinion and personal history with firearms during a hearing on gun control on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

Giffords, who was shot in the head in a 2011 attack in Tucson, Ariz., spoke slowly during her brief remarks, where she called on her former colleagues to prioritize gun control. "This is an important conversation for our children, for our communities, for Democrats and Republicans." Giffords said. "Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying, too many children. We must do something. It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be bold, be courageous. Americans are counting on you."

[PHOTOS: Senate Begins Gun Control Hearings.]

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun control was the first since Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 first graders and six adults in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school in December.

But while horror of the incident was universally shared, the hearing illustrated how divided lawmakers are on how to prevent future mass shootings.

Since the December shooting, legislators have frantically scrambled to address gun control, introducing legislation on everything from banning high-capacity magazines to a re-introducing an "assault weapons" ban.

"We will never forget where we were or how we reacted," Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said about the Newtown shooting. "We all want to exam sensitive actions that could reduce the likelihood of future crimes."

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Grassley added, however, that the deaths of innocent children should not be politicized to enact every gun law that has been circulating around Capitol Hill for the past decade.

"The problem is greater than just guns alone," Grassley said.

Democratic senators disagreed.

"Not discussing guns when talking about mass shootings is like not discussing cigarettes when you talk about lung cancer," New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer said.

Just weeks after launching Americans for Responsible Solutions, a group to curb gun violence, Giffords' husband Mark Kelly, a former astronaut, testified that some gun laws make sense. He drew specific attention to the risk of high-capacity magazines.

[POLLS: Most Americans, NRA Members Want Gun Restrictions]

"In 15 seconds, [Jared Loughner] emptied his magazine. It contained 33 bullets; there were 33 wounds," Kelly said. "Gabby is a gun owner, and I am a gun owner. We have our firearms for the same reason that Americans just like us have guns...but when dangerous people get dangerous guns, we are all the more vulnerable."

In his opening congressional testimony, the first in more than a decade, LaPierre offered a sharp criticism of lawmakers, who he says are prematurely hustling to enact legislation that will not work.

"Law-abiding gun owners will not accept blame for the acts of violent or deranged criminals," LaPierre testified. "Nor do we believe the government should dictate what we can lawfully own and use to protect our families."

LaPierre endorsed expanding gun education programs to teach "safe and responsible gun ownership," placing armed guards in school and including more mental health records into that national background check system.

As the hearing barreled on, some areas of consensus crystallized. Lawmakers and those testifying agreed that strengthening the country's system of background checks needed to be a critical piece of stopping dangerous people from getting guns.

According to the Government Accountability report, local governments do not have the adequate resources to enter court data into the national database. The study showed 17 states had entered fewer than 10 mental health records into the system since the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was created six years ago.

Lawmakers and experts testifying also agreed that straw purchasers, individuals who buy guns for people who cannot legally purchase them for themselves, should face harsher punishments, as well as individuals who try to buy guns as felons.