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July 1st, 2013
02:56 PM ET

Mark Kelly, Gabby Giffords weigh tough tactics on gun control

Mark Kelly and his wife, former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, couldn’t get Congress to act on their appeal for stricter gun control. So now, they are taking their case on the road and contemplating hard-ball politics to get their way.

Giffords was shot in the head two years ago during a political event at an Arizona supermarket and continues to recover.

"Gabby’s doing great. She continues to improve. She’s got a great attitude. She’s working really hard and she’s doing really well," Kelly said on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”

Well enough apparently to travel and press for new gun control laws with the couple's advocacy group, Americans for Responsible Solutions.

Their push this time also includes the possibility of some bare-knuckles political tactics regarding Democrats who did not sign on to an ill-fated bipartisan Senate amendment to expand background checks this past spring.

Kelly said their group is considering supporting candidates in primaries to defeat Democrats who did not support the bill.

"We don’t rule out any option that gets us to the place where members of Congress will do what the American people are asking," said Kelly about the possibility of supporting candidates running in primaries against Democrats who did not support the legislation sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, and Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican.

"The Manchin-Toomey bill, that’s supported by 90%, I think nearly 90% of Americans agreed that that was the right thing to do. Congress failed to act," Kelly said.

The latest gun-control push was prompted by last December’s school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.

"It’s pretty sad that we have 20 first graders that are murdered in their classrooms and the response at a national level to that tragedy so far has been nothing. So if this Congress won’t do it, we’ll find one that will," said Kelly.

Kelly and Giffords plan to travel "to certain states that have been critical in this debate on gun violence to keep the discussion open and ongoing and to try to get members of Congress and the community to work hard to get some reasonable gun legislation passed at both the state and federal level," said Kelly.

In the past, the group has pushed for criminal background checks for all private sellers at gun shows and the Internet, a limit on high-capacity magazines and assault weapons, and stiffer penalties for gun trafficking and straw sales.

Gun rights groups and others say it is doubtful such enforcement would have prevented last July’s massacre at a Colorado movie theatre.

But Kelly said stricter gun control initiatives advocated by his group could have prevented the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, and possibly the Tucson shooting that killed six and injured his wife.

The Virginia Tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, was found to be mentally ill.

"If that information was in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, he wouldn’t have gotten a gun," said Kelly. "Same thing is sort of true with Tucson. It gets a little bit more complicated.”

But if the Tucson shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was denied a gun from a federally licensed firearm dealer, he could still have gone to a gun show, or purchased one on the Internet without a background check.

"We need to close those loopholes to make it much more difficult for criminals to get access to dangerous weapons," said Kelly.

After the Newtown massacre, President Barack Obama and the White House talked about how the problem of gun violence needed to be addressed holistically, not just pertaining to restrictions on guns, but also mental health issues, also the glamorization of gun violence in the media.

"We talk about the mental health issue all the time," said Kelly, who added he frequently broaches the subject with members of Congress.

But Kelly acknowledged the group could do more to address Hollywood and the glamorization of violence in movies and the media

Giffords was reportedly furious when the Manchin-Toomey amendment failed.

"Mark my words. If we cannot make our community safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure that we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s," the former Democratic congresswoman wrote in a New York Times opinion piece.

Kelly said the gun lobby has been effective over the past 40 years, “building an enormous amount of influence” with no one on the other side “asking for some sensible and reasonable” gun control measures.

"Gabby said we will do whatever it takes to make sure we get a Congress that will pass these sensible bills," he said.

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