Senate Hearing Pits NRA, Gun-Control Supporters [LIVE VIDEO]
]The National Rifle Association and gun-control advocates, including the husband of wounded former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, are facing off at the year's first Senate hearing on curbing gun violence.
Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords says Congress should be bold in writing new laws to address gun violence in America.
Giffords was severely wounded in a 2011 shooting spree that killed six people during a forum in Tucson. She told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Americans are counting on lawmakers to address the problem. Speaking haltingly, she said: "It will be hard, but the time is now. Too many children are dying."
The former Arizona congresswoman was the first witness at Congress's initial hearing on gun violence since the Newton, Conn., elementary school massacre in December.
The Senate committee is taking the lead in writing legislation to address gun violence. Many want to re-impose an assault weapons ban and prohibition on large-capacity ammunition magazines. The National Rifle Association opposes these proposals.
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee says closing loopholes in the background check system for gun purchasers won't threaten the Second Amendment rights of gun owners. Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy says it's a matter of common sense. His statement was prepared for his committee's hearing today on curbing guns. According to a Senate aide, wounded former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords will testify.
Today's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing comes less than two months after the massacre of 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
That shooting rampage has revived the debate over restricting firearms, including proposals by President Barack Obama to require background checks on all gun sales and ban assault weapons.
In testimony prepared for the hearing but released Tuesday, Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president, said such steps had failed in the past. He instead voiced support for better enforcement of existing laws, beefing up school security and strengthening the government's ability to keep guns from mentally unstable people.
"Law-abiding gun owners will not accept blame for the acts of violent or deranged criminals," LaPierre said in his statement. "Nor do we believe the government should dictate what we can lawfully own and use to protect our families."
Testifying for some gun curbs will be retired astronaut Mark Kelly, Giffords' husband. Giffords is a Democrat and gun owner. Kelly and Giffords, a gun owner, formed a political action committee called Americans for Responsible Solutions to back lawmakers who support tighter gun restrictions.
The chairman of the panel, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said little Tuesday about the direction his committee's legislation might take. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., indicated that whatever the committee produced wouldn't necessarily be the final product, saying the package would be debated by the full Senate and senators would be allowed to propose "whatever amendments they want that deal with this issue."
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved)