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July 05. 2013 8:46PM

Gabrielle Giffords urges a push for 'courage' in NH visit


Former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly take questions at a press conference at the Millyard Museum in Manchester on Friday afternoon. The two are making a swing through New Hampshire to promote their Americans for Responsible Solutions organization. (Bruce Preston / Union Leader)

Adam Orcutt of Concord was among a small group demonstrating their right to bear arms outside of the Millyard Museum in Manchester on Friday afternoon as Giffords and Kelly hold their press conference inside. Orcutt opposes gun registration. (Bruce Preston/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER — Shooting victim Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, gathered support Friday from some in law enforcement to pass a law requiring expanded background checks for gun sales.

"Stopping gun violence takes courage, the courage to do what's right, the courage of new ideas," Giffords, a former Arizona congresswoman shot in the head in 2011, said during a news conference at the Millyard Museum.

Among those standing behind the couple was Steven Maloney, president of the 168-member Manchester Patrolman's Association.

He said after the event that the association's board voted last week to support Giffords' organization, Americans for Responsible Solutions.

"We feel as a police patrolmen's association that background checks are something that will keep us safer, the community safer," Maloney said. "Most of us are gun owners, so we do believe in the Second Amendment."

Kelly, a retired astronaut, said he and his wife had hoped to meet in New Hampshire with U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H, who opposed a bill this spring to expand background checks for sales at gun shows and over the Internet, "but this is a complicated time of year for everybody, the Fourth of July."

Kelly said he talked with Ayotte about a week ago. "It's a private conversation, but it was a good conversation about where we were going and what we were doing," he said.

According to Ayotte spokesman Jeff Grappone, "Senator Ayotte had prior family plans, so she called Mark Kelly last week to talk."

As for Ayotte opposing the bill to expand background checks, Grappone said: "Senator Ayotte respects Congresswoman Giffords and her brave recovery. Based on her experience as a murder prosecutor, Senator Ayotte voted for legislation she believed would effectively keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill by fixing the current broken background check system, increasing prosecutions of gun-related crimes and improving our mental health system."

Outside the news conference, about a half-dozen people protested Giffords' appearance.

"I'd like to tell her to go home," said Dennis Hamel of Henniker. His sign read: "Register Lunatics, Not Guns."

Another protestor, Adam Orcutt of Concord, came with a handgun strapped to his hip and an AR-15 rifle slung over his shoulder. He also held a "Don't Tread on Me" flag.

"Defend liberty and freedom," Orcutt said.

"The type of background checks she wants requires registration," he said. "There's only two reasons for registration: to tax and take."

Kelly said the Senate bill expressly forbid setting up a registry.

During the news conference, Bill Barry, a police officer in Auburn, said he has seen what guns in the hands of criminals and the dangerously mental ill have done.

"We also know, all of us who are gun owners here, that expanding background checks doesn't limit our rights to own guns or use guns," Barry said.

Kelly said he visited a gun store and shot on a rifle range Friday as part of a North Country trip to the Whitefield area. He said he talked with a few people who disagreed on expanded background checks.

"You listen to the person first and you let them talk and you try to find some common ground," he said. "I think we both understand each other a little bit better. I would hope there'd be more of that in our nation's capital."

Kelly, asked about criticism that a victim of gun violence doesn't make that person an expert, said: "Gabby was a member of Congress before she was a victim of an assassination attempt and neither of us professes to be an authority on the subject. We're just two people, a lot like gun owners here in New Hampshire, but what I think we do add to the debate is we're both gun owners."

Giffords, who still has difficulty talking, urged people from all political parties to come together to help curb gun violence.

"We must never stop fighting. Fight. Fight. Fight. Be bold. Be courageous," she said. "The nation is counting on you."

mcousineau@unionleader.com


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