Ahead of yesterday’s town hall meeting with President Barack Obama on the topic of gun violence, retired astronaut Mark Kelly and former congresswoman Gabby Giffords talked with some Arizona reporters.
Thinking about the years that have passed since Tucson’s 2011 mass shooting, Kelly said “it’s kind of unbelievable to think that five years have gone by. Five years is a long time and in some ways, in seems like a long time.”
Gabby echoed: “Long time.”
“And in other ways,” Kelly continued, “it feels like was yesterday.”
“Yesterday,” Gabby said.
Kelly talked about what the couple is up to these days. Gabby had quite a year; she broke her femur training for her El Tour de Tucson appearance, but still managed to complete the 40-mile stretch she set out to do. And in the year ahead, she hopes to dust off her old French horn and start horseback riding again. Kelly is working with former Biospherians Jane Poynter and Taber MacCallum on World View Enterprises, which hopes to use high-altitude balloons to take passengers on high-altitude balloon rides to the edge of space. Kelly hopes to pilot a test run later this year.
Both Giffords and Kelly have been traveling a lot in conjunction with their work with Americans for Responsible Solutions, the gun-safety organization they founded in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 young kids and six adults dead.
Kelly said the group is now looking at what kind of campaigning it will do in the 2016 election cycle.
They are both supportive of the “really significant” executive actions that President Barack Obama announced earlier this week.
“It’s very satisfying to see all of this come together after working on this issue for such a long time,” Kelly said. “Sixty percent of gun sales are done with background checks, 40 percent aren’t. Of those 60 percent, in a 10-year period, we stopped about 2 million felons from buying firearms. How many weren’t stopped by the 40 percent loophole that exists? Probably a lot. So hopefully we’ll capture a lot more of those gun sales that should have never taken place.”
He added that critics of the president who say he is overreaching his authority are “grasping at straws.”
When it comes to expanding the definition of who should be considered a gun dealer (and thus be required to conduct a background check), Obama has the power “to direct the ATF with regards to who is in the business of selling firearms,” Kelly said. “It’s not any kind of new requirement. The requirement already exists that if you are in the business of selling guns, you are required to have a license and you are required to do background checks. So this isn’t some new thing. It was legislated in the early 1990s.”
Kelly finds it easy to brush off the criticism that comes their way from more vocal gun advocates.
“A lot of that criticism … is in the weeds of the Internet,” Kelly said. “When you go on Main Street or even in the conservative media, people are always respectful and open to other opinions and ideas. I’ve had very positive debates about this issue all across the spectrum. When somebody makes a comment on a blog about me, there’s about a zero percent chance—or a very low percent chance—that I’m going to read it. It’s not worth me spending my time on that. But the bottom line is: No matter what the criticism is, and how nasty and biting it might be, it really doesn’t matter. Because what we are doing—and what our organization is doing—is saving people’s lives, and those people include little kids. So if Gabby and I have to get beat up in the newspaper or maybe on radio somewhere or on TV, it’s insignificant.”
You can watch highlights from last night's town hall meeting on gun violence here.