Lauren Gambino, reporting from Washington DC, attended a press conference by former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who survived a 2011 shooting that killed six and injured more than a dozen others.
“What we’re hearing today at the Capitol and the White House are thoughts and prayers,” her husband, said Mark Kelly said, in remarks delivered outside the Capitol.
“Your thoughts and prayers aren’t going to stop the next shooting. Only action and leadership will do that.”
Giffords and Kelly, who have become prominent advocates for stricter gun control laws since the 2011 shooting, were due to campaign for Democratic Virginia’s gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam, but changed their plans after the massacre in Las Vegas.
“We don’t have to accept this as normal. it’s not normal. It’s not inevitable. It’s an epidemic that needs to be cured,” Kelly said.
He lambasted members of Congress for cowing to political interests, and for considering legislation that he said could create even more chaos during mass shooting situations.
“Imagine how much worse last night’s shooting could have been if the gunman had a silencer,” he said, referring to a bill that would make it easier to buy silencers, devices that reduce the noise emitted from the firearm.
“Imagine the confusion for first responders if they arrived on the scene to a bunch of civilians wielding their own guns attempting to return fire.”
Kelly listed a number of measures he said would help reduce the number of gun deaths each year, including laws to expand background checks, to ban people convicted of domestic violence from purchasing a firearm, to stiffen penalties for straw purchases, and to invest in research on the causes and effects of gun violence.
At the end of his remarks, Giffords leaned over the podium to conclude. “The nation is counting on you,” she said.
Gun control advocates have mobilized in force since the 20 children were killed at Sandy Hook elementary school, in 2012. And while they have made marginal gains on the state level, the groups, which include Kelly and Giffords’ Americans for Responsible Solutions, and members of Congress such as Connecticut senator Chris Murphy, have had little success at the national level.
Asked why the legislative campaign has failed to make a dent in the wake of so many deadly mass shootings, Kelly pointed to an sharp imbalance in resources and entrenched politicization. Though he had little optimism that the current Congress would act, he urged voters to hold legislators accountable at the ballot box.
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, has written Paul Ryan, the Republican Speaker, to demand action on gun control in the aftermath of the shooting.
“Congress has a moral duty,” she writes, “to address this horrific and heartbreaking epidemic.”
Charged with the solemn duty to protect and defend the American people, we must respond to these tragedies with courage, unity and decisive action.
First, Congress must pass the bipartisan King-Thompson legislation to strengthen the life-saving background checks that keep guns out of the wrong hands. But this is only a first step.
I urge you to create a Select Committee on Gun Violence to study and report back common sense legislation to help end this crisis. The bipartisan committee would make recommendations to prevent unpseakable tragedies such as the mass shooting in Las Vegas and to restore confidence in the safety of our communities.
The White House, however, has resisted calls to action.
“There is a time and place for a political debate. But this is a time to unite as a country,” said spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
“It would be premature to discuss policy when we don’t fully know all the facts or what took place last night.”