Giffords, Kelly to bring gun-control message to Portland

Americans for Responsible Solutions, a political action committee that advocates for stricter gun control measures, announced Tuesday that former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, will visit Portland on July 6 to rally support for legislation to expand federal background check mandates for firearms purchases.

The Portland visit will be one of the last stops on the couple’s week-long nationwide “Rights and Responsibilities” tour to tout polling data that shows widening public support for background checks.

Giffords still copes with the effects of wounds she suffered Jan. 8, 2011, when a gunman opened fire during her visit with constituents in Tucson, Ariz. She and Kelly will kick off their tour in Nevada on July 1. They also plan to visit Alaska, North Dakota, Ohio, New Hampshire and Maine.

“I’ve been around guns my whole life, and I know that as an American, my right to own a firearm goes hand in hand with my obligation to be a responsible gun owner and to do my part to make sure guns don’t fall into the hands of criminals or dangerously mentally ill people,” Kelly said in a prepared statement.

In addition to rallying supporters, the trip is meant to pressure elected officials to back future efforts to strengthen federal background-check laws. The most recent effort to enact new federal gun control regulations, including more stringent requirements to ensure that criminals or people with histories of posing harm to others could not buy firearms, failed in April to get the 60 votes needed to move forward in the U.S. Senate.

Maine’s two U.S. senators, Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King, supported a compromise amendment that would have strengthened background-check requirements. Collins was one of four Republican senators to do so.

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte joined most Republicans in voting against the amendment. As part of their visit to New Hampshire, Giffords and Kelly will strive to sway Ayotte with polling data that they say indicates her vote contradicted the wishes of a majority of her constituents. They’ll use the same approach on Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller.

Among the four Democrats in the Senate who opposed the amendment were Mark Begich of Alaska and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, which helps explain why Giffords and Kelly plan stops in those states.

As for Maine, the point of the trip — other than showing solidarity from Collins and King — seems to be to offer supporters of Americans for Responsible Solutions a chance to share a lobster dinner with Giffords and Kelly in Portland. That’s the prize offered in a contest on the group’s website.

– Robert Long