Kelly, a former astronaut and fighter pilot, fired away — first with a shotgun and later with a Winchester Model 70, an iconic hunting rifle that’s powerful enough to kill caribou.
Giffords took her turn at a shooting range outside Las Vegas the day before, extending her left arm and firing a pistol for the first time since before January 2011, when she was gunned down and nearly killed at a constituent meet-and-greet in Tucson.
The visits were part of a carefully orchestrated trip this week to display the couple’s affinity for firearms in states with strong gun traditions. Their hope is to convince fellow gun owners of the virtues of stricter regulations. With Second Amendment rights, they say, come responsibilities.
At each stop — from the nation’s largest public shooting range in Las Vegas to a 1950s-themed diner in Mandan, N.D. — another message also was clear: We’re not Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor of New York, who preaches gun control and bankrolls television ads assailing lawmakers who cross him.
Instead, Giffords and Kelly employ a softer touch. Armed with fresh polling data showing overwhelming support for expanding background checks in even the reddest pockets of the nation, the couple tells nervous politicians that they can vote “yes” and still keep their jobs.
On Tuesday here in Alaska, Kelly trained his attention on Mark Begich, one of four Democratic senators who voted against a background-checks bill in the spring. Kelly’s guest at the shooting range that morning was Tom Begich, the senator’s brother and informal adviser.
The event underscored the difficulty of changing the senator’s mind. When a reporter asked questions, Tom Begich said not to read anything political into his appearance. He said that he would have been foolish to turn down a chance to go shooting with a former astronaut, that he and Kelly mostly talked about hunting bears, and that he did not officially work for his brother or represent his views. “We just have Thanksgiving and Christmas together,” he said.
He added: “You’re asking my opinion about background checks? I probably shouldn’t share that with you.”
‘Courage to do what’s right’
Throughout her tour, Giffords has been pleading with anyone who will listen to do what she believes is the morally courageous thing. At the range in Nevada, where she and Kelly traveled to pressure another naysayer, Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Giffords spoke in her halting and emotional style.