Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords returned Wednesday to the northwest side grocery store where she was nearly slain Jan. 8, 2011 to advocate for expanded background checks for gun buyers.
She was joined by her husband, Mark Kelly, and a contingent of survivors from the mass shooting at the “Congress on Your Corner” meet-and-greet where six people died and 13 others were injured in a shooting spree by gunman Jared Lee Loughner.
The group organized the news conference to publicly urge Arizona senators Jeff Flake and John McCain to close the private seller loophole that allows gun sellers to bypass background checks for firearms sold on the internet or at gun shows. Other survivors held similar news conferences Tuesday.
Had the loophole been closed, Loughner would not have been able to legally purchase the gun he used to shoot Giffords and the other victims two years ago, Kelly said.
“It was clear that the shooter had a history of mental illness, but he had easy access to a gun. Admittedly, he purchased the gun with a background check, but if things were different, he would have failed that background check.
“Not only did he have a history of mental illness, he had history of drug use that the United States government knew about.
“Unfortunately, due to some failures in our system, it’s often the case that records about drug use, mental illness and even people’s criminal backgrounds are not entered into the National Instant Criminal Background check system. If that information was there, it’s pretty clear that the man who did this ... would have failed that background check,” Kelly said.
Loughner, 24, currently is housed in a federal prison medical facility in Springfield, Mo., where he has been treated for schizophrenia. He pleaded guilty to 19 federal charges and in November was sentenced to seven consecutive life sentences, plus 140 years, for the shooting spree that killed six people and injured Giffords and dozen others.
Even if Loughner had failed the background check, he still could have purchased a firearm through a private seller or at a gun show, Kelly said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected, Thursday, to discuss ways to reduce gun violence, including the implementation of universal background checks.
Contact reporter Veronica Cruz at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 573-4224.