The former U.S. congresswoman who was shot in the head two years ago launched a national effort Tuesday against gun violence, saying she and her husband will work to counter the country's strong gun lobby.
Gabrielle Giffords' effort comes as the Obama administration faces a self-imposed deadline at the end of this month to propose ways to curb the mass shootings and other violence that continue to grip the country. The administration this week is calling gun owner groups, victims' organizations and representatives from the video game industry to the White House for discussions.
The sense of urgency comes after a young man with a high-powered rifle, legally purchased by his mother, shot 20 young children and six adults to death at a school in Connecticut last month. President Barack Obama, who had been quiet on gun violence during his first term, called the shooting the worst moment of his presidency and has demanded "real action, right now."
But Congress is caught up in deep debate over fiscal issues, and one top Republican has warned that action on gun violence will be pushed back as result.
Giffords, who has owned a Glock pistol, and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, are becoming a prominent voice for gun control efforts, especially the Connecticut attack. They wrote in an opinion piece published in USA Today that their Americans for Responsible Solutions, a political action committee, would help raise money to support greater gun control efforts.
"Achieving reforms to reduce gun violence and prevent mass shootings will mean matching gun lobbyists in their reach and resources," they wrote. The National Rifle Association, the country's most powerful gun lobby, said after the Connecticut shooting that the solution would be putting an armed security officer in every school.
Giffords and Kelly last week visited the town where the Connecticut shooting occurred and met with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an outspoken gun control advocate.
In the opinion piece, Kelly and Giffords criticized what they say is lawmakers' inaction, saying that "in response to a horrific series of shootings ... Congress has done something quite extraordinary — nothing at all."
They hope that "legislators will no longer have reason to fear the gun lobby."
Obama has ordered an administration-wide task force on gun violence to send him proposals by the end of January. Vice-President Joe Biden leads the group and will meet Wednesday with gun violence victims' groups and gun safety organizations, a White House official said.
Biden will meet on Thursday with gun ownership groups and advocates for sportsmen, and other meetings with representatives from the entertainment and video game industries are planned. The official was not authorized to discuss the meetings before they were publicly announced and thus spoke on condition of anonymity.
Gun control slides down agenda
The Connecticut shooting led some pro-gun lawmakers to express a willingness to consider new measures. But less than a month later, gun control already has slipped behind economic issues. The president and lawmakers were consumed at year's end by efforts to avert the combination of spending cuts and tax hikes known as the "fiscal cliff." And Congress will face another set of equally pressing economic deadlines in March over spending cuts and government's borrowing limit.
Senator. Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, said the next round of fiscal deadlines will put off the consideration of gun legislation for at least three months.
"There will be plenty of time to take a look at their recommendations once they come forward," McConnell said of Biden's upcoming proposals during an interview Sunday on ABC.
Obama aides say the president still plans to act quickly on Biden's proposals before the shock of the Connecticut shooting fades.
"I believe most Americans would disagree with the idea that in the wake of what happened in Newtown, Connecticut, that we should put off any action on the issue of gun violence," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday in response to McConnell's comments. "It's certainly not a sentiment the president supports."
Biden's recommendations are likely to include proposals for legislation, as well as executive action Obama can sign into law without lawmakers' approval.
The president already has called on Congress to reinstate a ban on military-style assault weapons, close loopholes that allow gun buyers to avoid background checks and restrict high-capacity magazines. Obama also has ordered his administration to examine ways to improve mental health coverage and consider cultural issues like violence in video games and movies.
Pro-gun lawmakers have said any comprehensive effort must include more than just tighter gun control.