Is Congress afraid of the NRA?
Gun control • Giffords’ husband says members ignoring constituents.
Published: April 17, 2013 07:34AM
Updated: April 17, 2013 10:35AM
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FILE In this March 24, 2011, file photo NASA astronaut and space shuttle Endeavour Commander Mark Kelly speaks during a crew news conference in Houston. The husband of wounded congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head earlier this year, is planning his life post-NASA, keeping an open mind about running for political office while traveling the country for speaking engagements, he told The Associated Press on Wednesday, July 20, 2011. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

Washington • Members of Congress are paying more attention to the National Rifle Association than of their own constituents’ concerns with gun violence, says Mark Kelly whose wife, ex-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, survived an assassination attempt two years ago.

“You have more than 350 members of Congress [who] are very afraid of the gun lobby,” Kelly told reporters Tuesday. “They’re more concerned with the gun lobby than they are with what the president thinks on this issue. That’s clear to me.”

Kelly, who made his comments at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, said he was meeting one on one with members in a concerted push to pass gun-control legislation as the Senate starts what could be weeks of debate on the issue.

The former astronaut — whose wife was shot in the head in 2011 and critically wounded — said he was optimistic Congress will eventually pass expanded background checks for gun purchasers but that the effort is difficult because of the NRA, which has a “100-year head start” and a powerful lobby.

“As I speak to a number of U.S. senators and members of the House, they are thinking about their next election and how much money the NRA is going to spend,” Kelly said.

Asked by The Salt Lake Tribune how he could convince red-state politicians, Kelly said it will take serious conversations and a realization by the members that their constituents want gun laws changed. Some 82 percent of Utahns back expanded background checks, according to a poll earlier this year.

“You try to convince them that the people they’re hearing from are a very vocal minority and that most of their constituents are actually OK with some reasonable legislation to try to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill,” Kelly said, adding that too many politicians are putting politics before lives.

“You know, it’s concerning because I’ve sat in members’ offices who have said to me ‘I agree that there should be a universal background checks; I agree we need to address high capacity magazines and assault weapons, and I can’t vote for any of that,’ ” Kelly said. “That’s a problem.”

Utah Sen. Mike Lee, for one, has said he opposes any attempt to tighten gun regulations as an assault on citizens’ Second Amendment rights, and unsuccessfully attempted a filibuster to block any firearms legislation.

He dismisses surveys showing widespread support — even in the Beehive State — for expanded background checks, saying such poll results are trumped up because they don’t point out to respondents that background checks would require the government to collect information on who owns what guns, which is far less popular with the public.

Kelly and Giffords have launched Americans for Responsible Solutions to push for more gun-control laws and Kelly vowed Tuesday to throw its weight behind any politician seeking reform.

The NRA did not return a call for comment.

All of Utah’s members of Congress have received an “A” rating from the group and none of them have indicated support for any gun-control legislation.

tburr@sltrib.com