TUCSON, Ariz. – Tuesday was not just a day for Tucson to remember the victims of the deadly shooting that severely injured then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. It was also a day when residents could see firsthand the nation’s gun debate play out in a busy parking lot outside a city police station.
On one side was a councilman who supports gun control leading an effort to give $50 grocery store gift cards to anyone who turned in their firearms to police. On the other was an event organized by a state senator that turned into an open, unregulated and legal marketplace for firearms.
We have a fundamental hole in the private sales of guns. You can walk up right in front of a cop and buy a gun, no background check, nothing, Councilman Steve Kozachik said. How much more flawed can the system be?
The people who bought guns from one another declined requests for comments. The senator and gun rights advocate didn’t stay at the event but earlier said he was angered by the timing of Kozachik’s event and that paying $50 for a gun was such little money that it amounted to theft.
The dueling gun buyback programs – and the annual ringing of bells to remember the six dead and 13 injured, including Giffords, during the January 2011 attack – came as the congresswoman and her husband announced they are forming a political action committee aimed at curbing gun violence.
Giffords and husband Mark Kelly, a former astronaut, wrote in an op-ed published in USA Today that their Americans for Responsible Solutions initiative would help raise money to support greater gun control efforts and take on the gun lobby.
Achieving reforms to reduce gun violence and prevent mass shootings will mean matching gun lobbyists in their reach and resources, the couple wrote. They said that it will raise funds necessary to balance the influence of the gun lobby.
There was already some concern among gun control advocates that they were losing the momentum they hoped to have after the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead in December. Congress was already occupied with budget concerns.
This country is known for using its determination and ingenuity to solve problems, big and small. Wise policy has conquered disease, protected us from dangerous products and substances, and made transportation safer, Giffords and Kelly wrote. But when it comes to protecting our communities from gun violence, we’re not even trying – and for the worst of reasons.
As a House member, Giffords was a centrist Democrat who represented much of liberal-leaning Tucson but also more conservative, rural areas. She supported gun rights and said she owned a Glock pistol. In the editorial, the couple said they own two guns that are locked in a safe at their house.
They hope to raise funds for political activity, so legislators will no longer have reason to fear the gun lobby.
In Tucson, residents rang bells at 10:11 a.m. – the moment a mentally ill man using a handgun with an extended magazine opened fire on Giffords as she met with constituents outside a Safeway supermarket.
Mayor Jonathan Rothschild rang a bell at a fire station 19 times – one for each victim.
At the gun events, Kozachik said that as the Tucson shooting fades from the public’s mind, issues like controlling the sale of large-capacity magazines and keeping guns from the mentally ill need attention.
About 200 firearms, many of them old, some inoperable, were turned in during the event, police said. They were set to be destroyed later in the day.
In response to the event, Republican state Sen. Frank Antenori organized a gathering outside the same police station where about a dozen people offered cash for guns.
He claimed the offer of just the gift card for a gun was like stealing it.
Can you name me one firearm in working condition that’s worth $50 or less? Antenori said.