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Giffords in N.C.: 'Fight, fight, fight' for gun control

By Aliana Ramos
aramos@newsobserver.com

RALEIGH - At about noon Sunday former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords urged a group gathered at The Pit restaurant to "Fight, Fight, Fight" and to ask federal lawmakers to expand criminal-background checks for gun buyers.

Across the street about 20 protesters with Grass Roots North Carolina held up signs saying “Guns Save Lives.”

Both factions said they were working on behalf of gun owners, but used different tactics to make their case.

Leadership of Grass Roots North Carolina, frustrated because organizers did not make public details surrounding Giffords’ and Kelly’s visit, on Saturday offered 100 rounds of free ammunition to the first person to identify the firing range Mark Kelly, Giffords’ husband, visited Sunday morning.

Giffords was in town on behalf of Americans for Responsible Solutions, a political action committee she and her husband, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, set up this year. Giffords and Kelly launched the group in January on the two-year anniversary of the Tucson, Ariz., mass shootings where Giffords and 12 others were wounded and six other people were killed.

The group is pushing for expanding existing criminal-background check requirements at the point of purchase to include private sellers. They say the chance would close loopholes that allow criminals, terrorists and people with mental illness to get their hands on guns. Kelly is a gun owner and spent the morning at a clay-shooting range in Holly Springs.

Raleigh was the last stop on the couple’ seven-city Rights and Responsibilities tour. The ARS is hosting small roundtable discussions with gun owners, victims of violence and others. Giffords is expected to head to Asheville next for more rehabilitation therapy. She has aphasia as a result of her injuries and struggles to speak and walk.

“Hello, Raleigh. Stopping gun (violence) takes courage,” Giffords said, reading from a statement. "The courage to do what’s right. The courage of new ideas. I’ve seen great courage when my life was on the line. Now is the time to come together. Be responsible. Democrats, Republicans, everyone. We must never stop fighting. Fight, fight, fight people. Be courageous. The nation is counting on you. Thank you.”

Fourteen people were invited to be part of the roundtable discussion. About half said they were gun owners and 10 of the 14 knew someone who had been shot or killed by guns.

“We’re not trying to take away anyone’s guns. We just want to increase protection for law abiding citizens,” said Pia Carusone, executive director for the Giffords-Kelly group.

Carusone said the group is an advocate for gun owners and is striving to serve as the middle ground in the debate over gun laws. The group’s aim is to get lawmakers to take the expanded criminal-background check issue up again after last April’s failed vote in the U.S. Senate.

Grass Roots North Carolina protesters outside of the roundtable event felt excluded from the discussion.

“(They’re) having a roundtable discussion with gun owners and somehow our invitation got lost in the mail,” said Sean Sorrentino, a representative for Grass Roots North Carolina.

Sorrentino said criminal-background checks violate citizens’ Second Amendment rights.

“It’s saying I have to prove my innocence before I can use my Second Amendment rights,” he said.

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