RICHMOND — Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’s right arm hung at her side as she limped to the lectern to give a stilted rallying cry for a cause that became her life’s mission after the 2011 shooting that killed six people and left her severely injured.
“Stopping gun violence takes courage, the courage to do what’s right, the courage of new ideas,” she said at the State Capitol. “I’ve seen great courage when my life was on the line. Now is the time to come together. Be responsible. Democrats, Republicans. Everyone. We must never stop fighting. Fight. Fight. Fight!”
Her powerful plea came during a news conference Tuesday to introduce a coalition of advocates who want to strengthen the state’s gun laws and require universal background checks for those who want to buy a gun.
Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group Giffords founded with her husband, Mark Kelly, has followed a similar strategy in New Hampshire, Minnesota, Oregon and Delaware before bringing their message to Virginia.
The announcement comes about a month after Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) signed into law compromise legislation that his administration negotiated with Republican lawmakers and the National Rifle Association during the recent legislative session.
The deal allows for voluntary background checks at gun shows and requires tighter restrictions on gun possession by domestic abusers in exchange for what amounts to universal recognition in Virginia of concealed-carry permits from other states.
But Giffords, Kelly and their allies want mandatory checks for all gun sales, including those at gun shows and private transactions arranged over the Internet.
Giffords and Kelly were not involved in negotiating the deal struck by McAuliffe and have refrained from criticizing it publicly. The couple met privately with McAuliffe at dinner Tuesday at the governor’s mansion.
“Among us we have different views on this agreement,” Kelly said of the coalition. “Some of us supported it, some of us opposed it, but we all know that the agreement is the law of the land here in Virginia.”
The group identified Virginia as a state where advocates could eventually persuade lawmakers to embrace some gun-control measures.
Kelly, a Navy combat veteran and retired NASA astronaut, said 33,000 Americans died of gunshot wounds last year. Although Kelly said he owns guns and believes in protecting the Second Amendment, he said the nation must enact stricter laws.
“It’s time for our leaders to do more to address the gun-violence crisis that is tearing some of our communities apart and makes our country stand out in the worst of ways,” he said.
He ticked off a list of mass shootings, including the massacres at Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook Elementary School and the slaying of two Roanoke TV journalists last year.
Gun-control advocates say it is unclear how many illegal sales would be prevented by universal checks, because it is difficult to track guns after they leave the manufacturer.
Many supporters of gun rights oppose universal background checks.
Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said background checks will only make it more difficult for law-abiding enthusiasts to acquire guns. “It should be extremely easy for citizens to be able to get a gun,” he said. “It’s a right.”
Del. C. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah), a former prosecutor, said universal background checks wouldn’t stop shooters bent on doing damage; they would probably steal guns or use straw purchasers, he said. “People who don’t follow the law anyway find a way to break new ones,” he said in a phone interview after the news conference.
A Gilbert-sponsored bill that advanced in the recent legislative session would allow someone who takes out a protective order to carry a concealed weapon for 45 days without going through the regular permitting process. McAuliffe has not said whether he will sign or veto the bill.