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Nancy Pelosi honors Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly at Sustained Dialogue Awards

From left, Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass), Rear Adm. Susan J. Blumenthal, honorary gala chair and Sustained Dialogue Insitute president, Rev. Mark Farr, astronaut Mark Kelly, former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) at the SDI’s awards on Nov. 16. (Elizabeth Chomas)

Walking through the halls of the National Press Club, Mark Kelly spotted a familiar face.

“Hey, that’s me” the former astronaut said nonchalantly as he pointed to a photo of himself suited up in an orange space suit, helmet tucked under his arm, hanging among the many portraits of VIPs adorning the walls.

Kelly was there not to admire himself, however, but rather to be admired.

Along with his wife, former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), Kelly was a recipient of the Sustained Dialogue Institute‘s National Dialogue Award for commitment to the ideals of the organization, whose goal is to promote peace through communication. The husband and wife were honored for the work they have done with their recently renamed foundation, Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence.

Giffords suffers from lifelong injures after being shot in the head during a 2011 Tucson attack, which left six dead. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who delivered a speech on the House floor to mark Giffords’ return to government post-shooting, presented the award to Giffords and Kelly.

Among the challenges Kelly and Giffords tackle in their work is dealing with the Trump administration’s partiality for more lax gun control measures.

“The gun lobby has their own agenda and they have things they want to pass in Congress,” Kelly said in an interview. “It’s not something the president talks about frequently but I imagine if certain pieces of legislation were to make it to his desk there’s a pretty good chance he would sign it.” The couple is trying to convince people that bills legalizing silencers, for example, are not in the best interest of public safety, Kelly explained.

Kelly said their foundation is pushing for gun laws that don’t take away the rights of responsible gun owners.

“I own a number of firearms,” he said. “But we shouldn’t make it easy for felons, domestic abusers, people who are dangerously mentally ill or even suspected terrorists to buy firearms and currently that is the situation, so Gabby and I are working really hard to fix that.”

Ambassador at large Ray Mahmood, wife Shaista and Goodwill Ambassador Esther Coopersmith were also honored during the ceremony, along with alumna and former student leader Xiomara Contreras and a team from Case Western Reserve University. Other notable attendees were former congressman James P. Moran (D-Va.), Rear Adm. Susan J. Blumenthal, former assistant surgeon general, and her husband, Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.). Markey kept his spirits high despite his earlier disappointment over the House passing the GOP’s tax plan — the “lowest day” he’s experienced in his 41 years of being active in government, he pointed out.