ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska might seem a hard place to sell a gun control message in a state where subsistence hunting is for many a way of life, and where people routinely carry guns into the wilderness for protection from bears.
But that didn’t deter former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, from bringing their campaign for expanded background checks to the heart of gun-rights country on Tuesday.
Background checks on people who want to buy firearms at gun shows would not prevent all of the nearly three dozen murders a day in America or the 10 mass shootings a year, Kelly said.
Some of those tragedies, however, would be stopped, he told reporters.
“We’ll prevent some of them if we take some reasonable steps that most Americans agree on,” Kelly said.
Giffords, a former Democratic congresswoman from Arizona who survived an assassination attempt on Jan. 8, 2011, and Kelly, a former combat pilot and astronaut who flew four space shuttle missions, founded the group Americans for Responsible Solutions after Giffords was wounded. This week, they began a seven-state “Rights and Responsibilities Tour.”
Proposed legislation also would require criminal background checks for Internet sales.
Both of Alaska’s U.S. senators, Democrat Mark Begich and Republican Lisa Murkowski, voted in April against extending background checks to gun shows and online sales. Begich said the legislation would have undermined Alaskans’ Second Amendment rights.
Kelly disagreed. Walk into any Anchorage gun store, he said, and you’ll have to undergo a background check to complete a sale.
“I doubt Sen. Begich would think that’s an erosion of his Second Amendment rights. So I’m not sure what that comment means,” he said. “Why would it be an erosion of your Second Amendment rights to do that same exact thing at a gun show? Or if you buy a gun over the Internet?”
He said polling by his group indicates a majority of Americans, including Alaskans, would like to see background checks extended to the 40 percent of gun sales for which background checks aren’t required.
The FBI website says the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, launched on Nov. 30, 1998, has made more than 100 million checks, leading to 700,000 denials.
Kelly wondered how many people who were denied weapons at stores then went to a show or the internet to buy a gun.
“I imagine, probably some of them,” Kelly said. “We could have stopped that. How many crimes were committed? How many lives were lost?”
The main purpose for the trip, he said, was to listen to concerns of Alaska gun owners.
Kelly began his day in the state with target shooting of handguns and hunting rifles at an Anchorage range. He and Giffords in a closed meeting listened to concerns of 11 Alaska gun owners.
Former hunting guide Dave Lyon of Homer said none of the people in the room had a problem with expanded background checks to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people. There was disagreement, he said, over what defines the criteria for preventing a gun sale.
Jared Loughner, the mentally ill man who shot Giffords, passed a background check to buy his gun, Kelly said.
“There was enough information there about his mental illness,” Kelly said. “That should have been in the system. The problem is, even if it was, he probably would have figured out that he could go to a gun show or over the Internet.”
Giffords and Kelly kicked off the tour in the Las Vegas area on Monday with a visit to the Clark County Shooting Complex. It was the first time Giffords had fired a gun publicly since she was wounded.
Paralyzed in the right arm from the attack, she held the gun with just her left hand as she took aim at a target.
The stop was an effort to pressure Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, to support expanded background checks on gun sales, according to Giffords and Kelly.
Heller has said he doesn’t support the measure because of fears it would lead to a national gun registry.
Associated Press writer Michelle Rindels in Las Vegas contributed to this story.