Former astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), told a Senate committee on Wednesday morning that "this time must be different," calling for stronger gun laws in the wake of a string of mass shootings.

Kelly, a retired Navy officer who flew four times in space, has become the country's best-known spokesman for gun control, following the January 8, 2011, shooting that nearly killed his wife. Giffords was shot in the head as she held a constituent event in a supermarket parking lot in Tucson, Ariz. Six others were killed, before alleged gunman Jared Loughner was stopped as he sought to re-load. Kelly spoke after a brief opening statement from Giffords, who he said is still partially blind, and struggles to walk. He took her hand to help lead her from the room, and then returned a few minutes later to be a witness himself.

In Kelly's statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee, he took pains to cast himself--and his wife--as political moderates, and longtime gun owners. "We take that right very, very seriously, and we would never, ever give it up," Kelly said.

But Kelly urged the committee to seek to fix the "matrix of failure and inadequacy" that underlies every gun death. He suggested three potential actions:

  • Tightening background checks. Kelly said that many guns are transferred through private sales, and do not face the requirement of a federal background check on the buyer. "This makes a mockery of our background-check system," Kelly said. "Congress should close the private sales loophole."
  • Giving greater freedom to the Centers for Disease Control and other public-health groups to conduct studies on gun violence. This sort of research has been limited by federal laws, as legislators worried that the research would lead to federal employees advocating for greater gun control.
  • Enacting a new federal-gun trafficking statute, with greater penalties for those who help criminals get guns.

Kelly, who founded a group called Americans for Responsible Solutions with Giffords, had previously said he wanted a new ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. In this hearing, however, he stopped short of calling explicitly for those measures. Instead, Kelly called for a "careful and civil conversation" about whether those items should face greater regulation.