— WASHINGTON (AP) — In a dramatic appeal, wounded former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords urged Congress on Wednesday to enact tougher curbs on guns, saying, "too many children are dying" without them.
"The time is now. You must act. Be bold, be courageous, Americans are counting on you," she told the Senate Judiciary Committee at Congress' first gun control hearing since 20 elementary school children were shot to death in Newtown, Conn., late last year.
She spoke haltingly, a result of the wounds suffered when she was shot in the head in an attempted assassination two years ago that left six others dead.
But in conflicting testimony a little more than an hour later, a top official of the National Rifle Association rejected bans on certain assault weapons and high capacity magazines advocated by President Barack Obama and gun control advocates in Congress.
Under persistent questioning from Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the panel's chairman, the NRA's Wayne LaPierre also conceded that in a reversal, his organization no longer supports universal background checks for gun owners. He said the current system is a failure because the administration doesn't prosecute potential violators aggressively.
"Back in '99 you said, 'no loopholes, nowhere,' " said Leahy, referring to testimony delivered more than a decade ago. "Now you do not support background checks for all."
Giffords was not on the list of witnesses released in advance of the hearings, and in an unusual show of respect, members of the committee greeted her warmly outside the hearing room as she and her husband, former astronaut and retired Navy Capt. Mark Kelly, made their way inside. The former Democratic congresswoman was grievously wounded in an assassination attempt in Tucson, Ariz., a little more than two years ago, and has become a public advocate for gun control.