Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords launches gun-control initiative


Former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was severely wounded two years ago in an Arizona shooting, is launching a group aimed at curbing gun violence and raising enough money to challenge the well-funded gun lobby.

Giffords, starting the effort called Americans for Responsible Solutions with her husband former astronaut Mark Kelly, told ABC News that Congress must do more to prevent gun violence.

The two are gun owners, but in the wake of a string of recent mass shootings, they said more must be done to push common-sense efforts to reduce such violence.

“Enough,” Giffords, who was shot in the head while meeting with constituents in Tucson, Arizona, told ABC in an interview aired on Tuesday.

The initiative aims to “encourage elected officials to stand up for solutions to prevent gun violence and protect responsible gun ownership,” the group said on its website, americansforresponsiblesolutions.org.

It will push for background checks for private gun sales and look at ways to better address mental illness, among other efforts, Kelly told ABC.

Gifford's group is set to take on the National Rifle Association, which in 2011 spent over eleven times more on lobbying than all gun control lobbyists combined.

Her group has set up a political action committee for donations to “raise the funds necessary to balance the influence of the gun lobby,” it said on its website.

“Until now, the gun lobby's political contributions, advertising and lobbying have dwarfed spending from anti-gun violence groups. No longer,” Giffords wrote in an opinion piece published Tuesday in USA Today

She added: “winning even the most common-sense reforms will require a fight … Achieving reforms to reduce gun violence and prevent mass shootings will mean matching gun lobbyists in their reach and resources.”

The announcement comes just days after Giffords visited Newtown, Connecticut, and met with families of the victims of last month's Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in which 20 children and six teachers were killed.

Giffords also recently met with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who heads his own mayors' initiative that is also pushing for what he calls “reasonable” gun controls.

In the wake of the Dec. 14 Connecticut shooting, President Barack Obama has pledged to take swift action to reduce gun violence and has tapped a task force due to report later this month with possible measures.

The task force, led by Vice President Joe Biden, is reportedly weighing action beyond reinstating a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines to include universal background checks and a national gun sales database, among other steps.

The wave of shootings and the threat of tighter gun restrictions has spurred intense reaction on both sides.

Consumer demand for guns appears to have soared in recent weeks, according to FBI data.

Gun control supporters worry that other looming issues such as the nation's debt crisis could hamper efforts in Congress to push through new legislation.

Bloomberg's group launched its own new ad on Tuesday with the mother of child who was killed in the Arizona shooting.

Gabby Giffords faces Tucson assailant as he is sentenced to life


Former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords stood in federal court to face her would-be assassin on Thursday moments before he was sentenced to life in prison for killing six people and wounding 13 others, including Giffords, last year.

Jared Loughner, 24, a college dropout with a history of psychiatric disorders, received seven consecutive life terms plus 140 years in prison, without the possibility of parole, under a plea deal with prosecutors that spared him the death penalty.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns said the life sentences he imposed – one for each of the six people who lost their lives, and a seventh for the attempted assassination of Giffords – represented the individuality of the victims.

“He will never have the opportunity to pick up a gun and do this again,” Burns said before Loughner was led away by federal marshals.

Giffords suffered a head wound in the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting that left her with speech difficulties, a paralyzed right arm, diminished sight and a limp.

Loughner, who sat through the proceedings without addressing the court, showed no visible emotion as his sentence was pronounced or during statements delivered earlier in court by several survivors.

Giffords did not speak. Her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, spoke on her behalf.

“You may have put a bullet through her head, but you haven't put a dent in her commitment to make the world a better place,” Kelly told him, with Giffords standing at his side as she impassively faced her assailant.

Loughner, seated next to his lawyer, Judy Clarke, appeared to gaze back at them without expression.

“Although you were mentally ill, you were responsible,” Kelly told Loughner in a clear, ringing voice. “You have decades upon decades to contemplate what you did, but from this moment, Gabby and I are done thinking about you.”

Giffords resigned from Congress in January to focus on her recuperation.

GUN CONTROL

Kelly also used the occasion to take a political swipe at Republican Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a staunch gun-rights advocate, criticizing her for speaking out against proposed restrictions on high-capacity ammunition magazines, like the ones Loughner used, in the aftermath of the shooting.

“Jan Brewer said it had nothing to do with the size of the magazine. … She said this just one week after you used a high-capacity magazine,” Kelly said, also noting that she named a “state gun” weeks later instead of “fixing the education system.”

Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson declined comment on the criticism leveled against the governor.

“On this solemn occasion, Governor Brewer isn't interested in engaging in politics,” he said in a statement. “This is a day of justice and peace. Governor Brewer wishes both for the victims and their families.”

The proceedings marked a dramatic epilogue to a rampage of gun violence that shocked many Americans, added to the long-running debate over gun control and cut short the political career of Giffords, a rising star in the Democratic Party.

Loughner pleaded guilty in August in federal court to 19 charges, including murder and attempted murder, in connection with the shootings outside a Tucson area supermarket.

He admitted going to Giffords' “Congress On Your Corner” event armed with a loaded Glock 19 pistol and 60 additional rounds of ammunition with plans to kill the Arizona Democrat.

Loughner shot her through the head at close range. Six people were killed, including U.S. District Judge John Roll and 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green.

Court-appointed experts later said Loughner suffered from schizophrenia, disordered thinking and delusions. He was declared unfit to stand trial in May 2011 after he disrupted court proceedings and was dragged out of the courtroom.

Loughner was ruled mentally competent three months ago after being treated for psychosis at a U.S. Bureau of Prisons psychiatric hospital in Springfield, Missouri. He then agreed to plead guilty.

Few clues to the motives for the attack have emerged. Prison psychologist Christina Pietz has testified that Loughner had expressed remorse for the rampage and especially for the 9-year-old girl's death.

His calm, quiet demeanor in court on Thursday contrasted sharply with the wild-eyed image of Loughner from an early mug shot that captured the then-bald defendant grinning maniacally into the camera.

Asked at the outset of the hearing by the judge if he had chosen to waive his right to make a statement, Loughner answered in a low voice, “That's true.”

He was otherwise silent through the hearing, and made no attempt to avert the gazes of victims who testified before he was sentenced.

One of them was Giffords' former congressional aide Ron Barber, who also was wounded and ended up serving out the rest of her term after winning a special election.

Barber ran in Tuesday's election for a newly created U.S. congressional district in Arizona and was running neck-and-neck with Republican Martha McSally, with the outcome hanging on some 80,000 provisional and early votes that have yet to be tallied.

Speaking to Loughner's parents, Amy and Randy, who were seated in the front row of the courtroom, Barber said, “Please know that I and my family hold no animosity toward you, and that I can appreciate how devastating the acts of your son were.”

Additional reporting by Jazmine Woodberry and David Schwartz; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Will Dunham

Jared Loughner to plead guilty in Arizona shooting spree


Jared Loughner, the man accused of killing six people and wounding then-U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords in 2011, is set to plead guilty in a Tucson court on Tuesday, a person familiar with the case said.

The source confirmed that the federal government believed Loughner was now competent to stand trial and will argue that in court on Tuesday. Loughner is willing to change his plea to guilty at the previously scheduled hearing, the source said.

Psychiatric experts who have examined Loughner were scheduled to testify in a mental competency hearing on Tuesday that he was competent to stand trial and understood the 49 charges against him, the Los Angeles Times reported earlier.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Phoenix said he could “neither confirm nor deny” whether Loughner would plead guilty.

The team of four attorneys representing Loughner had not responded to emailed requests for comment.

Giffords, an Arizona Democrat seen as a rising star in the party, was holding one of her regular “Congress On Your Corner” events at a Tucson supermarket in January 2011 when she was shot through the head at close range by a gunman who killed six other people, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl.

Loughner, 23, is charged with 49 criminal offenses including first-degree murder over the shooting rampage, which wounded 13 people. A not guilty plea was entered on his behalf last year.

The Wall Street Journal, which also reported that Loughner would plead guilty, said Tuesday’s mental status hearing had been changed to a change-of-plea hearing, citing an official familiar with the case.

If U.S. District Judge Larry Burns were to determine at Tuesday’s hearing that he was fit for trial, Loughner – who is being forcibly medicated to treat his psychosis – could face the death penalty if found guilty.

The Los Angeles Times said it was unclear on the details of the plea arrangement, or whether Loughner would plead guilty to all or just some of the charges in exchange for prison time rather than risk being sentenced to death at trial.

Tuesday’s hearing was to be Loughner’s fourth to determine if he is fit to stand trial. Burns ordered the hearing in June at the request of prosecutors and defense attorneys who wanted a status report after more than a year of treatment and legal wrangling over his mental competency.

The college dropout was determined unfit for trial in May 2011 after experts said he suffered from schizophrenia, disordered thinking and delusions.

Loughner has been held at a U.S. Bureau of Prisons psychiatric hospital in Springfield, Missouri, where he is forcibly medicated against his will to treat psychosis and make him fit for trial.

Giffords resigned from the U.S. House of Representatives in January to focus on her recovery. Her former aide Ron Barber won a special election to fill her seat and will have to win re-election in November to serve a full two-year term.

Reporting by Tim Gaynor in Phoenix, Karen Brooks in Austin and David Ingram in Washington; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Jackie Frank and Anthony Boadle

Ron Barber, aide to Giffords, wins his ex-boss’ seat


Ron Barber, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, won her seat in a special election.

Barber, who decided to run after Giffords formerly resigned her seat earlier this year to recover from a shooting in January 2011, defeated Jesse Kelly, a Republican who suffered a narrow defeat to Giffords in the 2010 election for the swing district in Arizona.

Barber was wounded in the assassination attempt on Giffords, a Jewish Democrat. Jared Loughner, the acknowledged shooter now on trial, killed six others attending a meet-and-greet at a strip mall in Tucson.

Giffords, still recovering from her head wound, campaigned for Barber and appeared with him Tuesday night at his victory rally, kissing him on the forehead.

Barber and Kelly will face each other again in November.

In other elections Tuesday, George Allen won the nod from Virginia Republicans to run for his old U.S. Senate seat in November. Allen and his opponent, Tim Kaine, are former governors of the state.

Allen was the incumbent U.S. senator when he was narrowly defeated by Jim Webb in 2006 after he used a slur, “macaca,” to describe a videographer for the Webb campaign. The odd slur—used by French North Africans to deride people of color—led the media to discover that Allen’s mother was a Tunisian Jew.

At first, Allen vehemently denied that his mother was Jewish, compounding his image problem. After his defeat, he studied Judaism and his mother’s history and has reached out to the Jewish community.

The seat is open because Webb is retiring after one term.

In Nevada, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) easily won the primary and will face Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) in November. Berkley is a stalwart of the pro-Israel community, having served in a number of Jewish groups before beginning her political career.

Heller, named to the seat after John Ensign resigned in a scandal, has reached out intensively to pro-Israel groups in the last year.

Nevada, with its substantial Jewish population, is seen as a swing state in the November election.

Giffords attends vigil marking attack anniversary


Rep. Gabrielle Giffords led the Pledge of Allegiance at a vigil marking the one-year anniversary of an attack on the congresswoman and her constituents at a political event.

Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, attended the candlelight vigil Sunday night at the University of Arizona to mark the attack. Bells at churches and private homes rang out throughout Tucson at 10:11 a.m. Sunday morning, the time that the attack took place one year ago.

The commemoration also included an interfaith prayer service at a local church, during which a shofar was blown by a rabbi.

During the day, Giffords and Kelly also walked a short way on a trail in nearby Davidson Canyon named for one of the victims, Gabe Zimmerman, a former aide to Giffords.

Six people were killed and a dozen injured in the attack in Tucson by alleged gunman Jared Lee Loughner.

Giffords, the first Jewish woman elected to the Congress from Arizona, was shot in the head and continues to undergo intensive therapy. The three-term Democrat is planning to run again if her health permits it, according to reports.

Loughner has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges connected with the shooting. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but was found fit to stand trial.

Giffords learns identities of shooting victims


U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) has learned the identities of those killed in a shooting attack during a meet-the-constituents event at which she was also shot.

Jared Loughner allegedly opened fire Jan. 8 at the event in Tucson, killing 6, including a long-time Giffords aide and a nine-year-old girl. Giffords was shot in the head.

Giffords had not been deemed strong enough following her own traumatic injury to learn more details about the attack.

She was informed of the identities of the victims late last month, just before she returned to Congress for the first time to vote on raising the federal debt ceiling, the Arizona Republic reported over the weekend.

A Giffords aid told the newspaper that the congresswoman was “deeply saddened” by the information.

Giffords, the first Jewish woman elected from her state to a federal office, has been rehabilitating since the shooting. She was released from the hospital in June but returns every day for speech, music, physical and occupational therapy. Her neurosurgeon has cleared her for a reelection bid.