Giffords and Kelly hope to revive gun debate with fly-around tour of key states

Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords will try to revive the contentious debate over the nation's gun laws next week with a fly-around tour of states whose senators rebuffed popular opinion and voted against expanding background checks.

Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, plan to swoop into Alaska, North Dakota, Nevada and New Hampshire to hold public events orchestrated to pressure key senators to switch their votes to support expanding background checks to more gun buyers. They also will visit Maine and North Carolina, where senators took political risks to vote for the background checks bill this spring.

Gabrielle Giffords with husband Mark Kelly during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence, January 30, 2013 in Washington. (Getty Images)
Gabrielle Giffords with husband Mark Kelly during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence, Jan. 30, 2013 in Washington. (Getty Images)

The couple's "Rights and Responsibility" tour will run from July 1 to 7 and include public events in a different state each day. The tour is designed to make the case to elected officials that the Second Amendment rights to bear arms demand greater responsibility -- and that, in each state, a majority of voters support expanding background checks.

"I've been around guns my whole life, and I know that as an American, my right to own a firearm goes hand in hand with my obligation to be a responsible gun owner and to do my part to make sure guns don't fall into the hands of criminals or dangerously mentally ill people," Kelly, a retired Navy captain who flew combat missions in the Gulf War, said in a statement.

Kelly and Giffords, an Arizona Democrat who survived an assassination attempt in 2011 when a gunman opened fire at a constituent meet-and-greet event in Tucson, founded Americans for Responsible Solutions earlier this year. They emerged as two of the most prominent gun control activists during the Senate's fraught debate over toughening gun laws in the wake of last December's elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., which killed 20 small children and six adults.

Giffords and Kelly plan to kick off their tour on July 1 in Nevada, the home state of Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D) and Sen. Dean A. Heller (R). Reid, who had been considered a pro-gun Democrat and enjoyed the backing of the National Rifle Association, came out this spring in support of expanding background checks and prohibiting assault weapons.

But Heller, despite signaling he was open to a compromise on gun control during the debate, ended up voting no on the background checks measure. In Nevada, 84 percent of voters support expanding background checks, and voters by a margin of 2-to-1 want Heller to switch his vote, according to a state-by-state poll commissioned by Americans for Responsible Solutions and conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.

On July 2, Giffords and Kelly will head to Alaska, home to Sen. Mark Begich, who could face a tough reelection campaign in 2014 and was one of four Democrats to vote against the background checks compromise. The group's polling shows that although two thirds of Alaska voters own a gun, 72 percent of them support expanding background checks.

The next day, the couple will visit North Dakota, where freshman Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) also voted no. According to the poll, 79 percent of North Dakota voters support expanding background checks, while roughly half want Heitkamp to change her vote.

Giffords and Kelly will celebrate the July 4 holiday in Ohio -- home to Sen. Rob Portman (R), who voted no, and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D), who voted yes. And on July 5, Giffords and Kelly jet to New Hampshire, where Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) has faced a backlash for months following her no vote.

The couple will travel on July 6 to Maine, where Sens. Susan Collins (R) and Angus King (I) were among the 54 yes votes. Giffords and Kelly end their tour on July 7 in North Carolina, a state with a long tradition of gun ownership, where Sen. Kay Hagan (D) voted yes despite facing a potentially difficult reelection next year.

"Gabby and I are excited to hit the road this summer and meet so many of the great Americans who are standing with us to fight for common sense solutions to prevent gun violence and protect our rights," Kelly said in the statement.

Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.

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