Shot ex-congresswoman takes on US gun lobby

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Former US congresswoman and gun violence survivor Gabrielle Giffords put the National Rifle Association squarely in her sights Tuesday as she unveiled a major initiative for tougher gun laws.

Ms Giffords, shot in the head in January 2011 while meeting constituents in her native Arizona, announced she was forming her own lobby group after a visit to Newtown, Connecticut where 20 children died in a Dec 14 mass shooting.

"We can't just hope that the last shooting tragedy will prevent the next," Giffords said, in an op-ed article in the USA Today newspaper co-signed by her astronaut husband Mark Kelly.

"Achieving reforms to reduce gun violence and prevent mass shootings will mean matching gun lobbyists in their reach and resources," she said, referring specifically to the influential NRA.

Her group, Americans for Responsible Solutions, will "raise the funds necessary to balance the influence of the gun lobby" and support political leaders who support tougher limits on the private ownership of guns.

President Barack Obama has promised new measures to address gun violence in the United States in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in which six school staff members also died.

The gunman, Adam Lanza, 20, also killed his mother, owner of the Bushmaster military-style assault rifle he used to cut down the six- and seven-year-olds before taking his own life in one of the worst mass shootings in US history.

The NRA, with a highly motivated membership and legendary lobbying clout on Capitol Hill, is proposing to post armed guards in American schools as a means to deter future shootings.

US Senator Dianne Feinstein has meanwhile pledged to reintroduce a national ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips that expired in 2004.

The NRA said on Tuesday it would send a representative to the White House on Thursday "to hear what they have to say," following an invitation last week from the Obama administration for input on ways to confront gun violence.

In New York, meanwhile, the blog on Tuesday posted a 446-page list identifying what it called every licensed gun owner in the city, minus addresses, obtained from police via a Freedom of Information Law request.

Publication of a similar list in a suburban New York newspaper triggered outrage among gun owners who claimed they were being vilified for legally possessing firearms.

Guns are involved in more than 30,000 deaths in the United States, the majority of them suicides, and handguns - rather than rifles or shotguns - figure in most homicides.

Ms Giffords, who resigned from Congress a year ago to focus on her rehabilitation, said she upholds the Second Amendment of the US Constitution that sets out the rights of Americans "to keep and bear arms."

"We don't want to take away your guns any more than we want to give up the two guns we have locked in a safe at home," wrote Ms Giffords two years to the day after she was gravely shot - and six others killed, including a nine-year-old girl - in the parking lot of a Tucson, Arizona shopping mall.

"What we do want is what the majority of NRA members and other Americans want: responsible changes in our laws to require responsible gun ownership and reduce gun violence." Ms Giffords and Mr Kelly said the first change they hope to see is the introduction of comprehensive background checks for the private sale of firearms within the United States.

"I bought a gun at Walmart recently and I went through a background check.

It's not a difficult thing to do," Mr Kelly said. "Why can't we just do that and make it more difficult for criminals and the mentally ill to get guns?" He also disputed the need for civilians to own high-capacity ammunition clips, noting how the "clearly mentally ill" man who shot Giffords, Jared Lee Loughner, had used a 33-round clip in a Glock semi-automatic handgun.

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