Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly Launch Battle Against Gun Lobby: No More ‘Fear’
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Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly Launch Battle Against Gun Lobby: No More ‘Fear’
Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly have launched what they hope will mark a new era in the battle over gun rights in America.
On the second anniversary of a mass shooting in Arizona that wounded Giffords and killed six others, the couple launched a political action committee, Americans for Responsible Solutions, along with a website calling for contributions to help “encourage elected officials to stand up for solutions to prevent gun violence and protect responsible gun ownership.”
In an op-ed in USA Today, the two make their goal clear: to counter the influence of the gun lobby.
“Special interests purporting to represent gun owners but really advancing the interests of an ideological fringe have used big money and influence to cow Congress into submission,” they write.
“Rather than working to find the balance between our rights and the regulation of a dangerous product, these groups have cast simple protections for our communities as existential threats to individual liberties. Rather than conducting a dialogue, they threaten those who divert from their orthodoxy with political extinction.”
Emphasizing that they support the Second Amendment and own two guns themselves, Giffords and
Kelly call for “laws to require responsible gun ownership and reduce gun violence.”
“Until now, the gun lobby’s political contributions, advertising and lobbying have dwarfed spending from anti-gun violence groups. No longer. With Americans for Responsible Solutions engaging millions of people about ways to reduce gun violence and funding political activity nationwide, legislators will no longer have reason to fear the gun lobby.”
“Legislators will no longer have reason to fear the gun lobby”.
Says, Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly
“America has seen an astounding 11 mass shootings since a madman used a semiautomatic pistol with an extended ammunition clip to shoot me and kill six others,” Giffords writes. “This country is known for using its determination and ingenuity to solve problems, big and small … But when it comes to protecting our communities from gun violence, we’re not even trying — and for the worst of reasons .”
Giffords and Kelly have spoken out in the wake of last month’s slaughter in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 27 people murdered, 26 of them at Sandy Hook Elementary School — including 20 children.
Giffords wrote on Facebook at the time, “As we mourn, we must sound a call for our leaders to stand up and do what is right. This time our response must consist of more than regret, sorrow, and condolence. The children of Sandy Hook Elementary School and all victims of gun violence deserve leaders who have the courage to participate in a meaningful discussion about our gun laws — and how they can be reformed and better enforced to prevent gun violence and death in America. This can no longer wait.”
Giffords and Kelly visited Newtown last week. They met with local and state leaders to discuss gun control legislation, mental health identification and treatment, and ” concerns for the erosion of our societal values such that we are increasingly desensitized to violence,” according to Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra.
Giffords Told To ‘Stay Out’
Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords hugs House Cloak Room attendant Ella Terry after resigning from Congress in January 2012
That visit also highlighted the intense political concerns surrounding such issues.
Connecticut State Rep. DebraLee Hovey , the state’s assistant Republican leader, posted a note on her Facebook page saying, ” Gabby Gifford stay out of my towns !”
Hovey later issued a statement apologizing, saying, “Our community has struggled greatly through this tragedy, and we are all very sensitive to the potential for this event to be exploited for political purposes. This is what I wish to avoid .”The statement added that Hovey has advocated for a dialogue on mental health issues, school safety and gun control.
Kelly, a former captain in the U.S. Navy and NASA astronaut, also responded publicly in the wake of the Newtown shootings.
On his Facebook page, he took on the National Rifle Association — the central pro-gun rights lobby — after a news conference by a top NRA official about the Newtown tragedy triggered widespread anger.
Kelly wrote that the NRA’s response was “defiant and delayed,” and that the organization “chose narrow partisan concerns over the safety of our families and communities.”
The NRA has argued that it is committed to keeping people protected, and that a focus on stricter gun control is misguided.
“If it’s crazy to call for putting police and armed security in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy,”NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said of the anger following his initial news conference.
NRA President David Keene later told CNN the group supports schools choosing whether they want armed guards.
Kelly: ‘Good guys with guns’ aren’t the whole answer
LaPierre made clear his group believes that more guns, not fewer, are necessary for security.
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” he said. Mark Kelly and his wife Gabrielle Giffords are launching a PAC to battle gun lobby. Kelly said he knows from personal experience that that’s not the case.
The day Jared Loughner shot Giffords and 18 other people at a public event in Tucson, there was such a “good guy,” Kelly argued in an interview with ABC. A man came out “of the store next door and nearly shot the man who took down Jared Loughner,” Kelly said. “The one who eventually wrestled (Loughner) to the ground was almost killed himself by a good guy with a gun, so I don’t really buy that argument .”
Giffords and Kelly want to require comprehensive background checks for private sales of firearms, ABC reported. And Kelly said he does not believe an extended magazine is needed for those who have guns for sport.
Gunmen have used high-capacity weapons in numerous shootings, including one at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and Newtown, where gunman Adam Lanza had four weapons. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, is pushing legislation to reinstate a ban on assault weapons. A former Marine’s passionate disagreement with Feinstein has garnered attention online. There just may be a time when I need to do the unthinkable. Joshua Boston, former Marin “I own the guns I own because I acknowledge mankind’s shortcomings instead of pretending like they don’t exist,” Joshua Boston wrote in a CNN iReport. “There are evil men in this world and there just may be a time when I need to do the unthinkable to protect me or my family.”
Facebook user Ellen Schmuker wrote in a CNN discussion that Giffords and Kelly’s plan is “foolish” because “all gun bans are going to do is punish law abiding citizens for the actions of lunatics.”
But Hoai Phuong Nguyen took the opposite stance. ” No one is more qualified to head this effort, go Gabby and Mark ,” she wrote.
CNN.com users weighed in on Twitter as well, with Susan Blumberg-Kason saying she considers the idea “crucial.”
‘We Can’t Be Naive’
In their column Tuesday, Giffords and Kelly note that that gun violence “kills more than 30,000 Americans annually.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2009, 31,347 people died from firearm injuries. Nearly 60% were a result of suicide. Homicide comprised 37% of those deaths. Overall firearm injuries were down 2% from the year before.
Giffords’ remarkable recovery after being shot in the head has inspired many across the political spectrum. She told ABC she’s doing physical therapy, yoga, and speech therapy, and working with a service dog. She has also been able to begin some outdoor activities.
The tragedy two years ago thrust her and her husband into a new kind of spotlight. Tuesday marks a moment in which they are turning all that focus and attention — as well as their passionate calls for stricter gun control — into a political movement.
“We can’t be naive about what it will take to achieve the most common-sense solutions,” they wrote in their op-ed. “We can’t just hope that the last shooting tragedy will prevent the next. Achieving reforms to reduce gun violence and prevent mass shootings will mean matching gun lobbyists in their reach and resources.”
“We have experienced too much death and hurt to remain idle. Our response to the Newtown massacre must consist of more than regret, sorrow and condolence. The children of Sandy Hook Elementary School and all victims of gun violence deserve fellow citizens and leaders who have the will to prevent gun violence in the future.”
The California State Teachers Retirement System made waves Monday when it said it was reviewing its investment in Cerberus Capital Management ‘s Freedom Group Inc., the nation’s biggest manufacturer of guns and ammunition.
Now the pension fund said it is reviewing all its gun-related investments in light of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and will report its finding to the pension fund’s investment committee next month.
In the early hours of Tuesday, Cerberus said it would attempt to sell Freedom Group. Calstrs owns about 2.4%, through its Cerberus investments.
A Calstrs spokesman declined to comment on whether the pension plan was satisfied with Cerberus decision to unload Freedom Group.
The review by Calstrs comes as State Treasurer Bill Lockyer
asked the teachers fund and the California Public Employees Retirement System on Monday to look over their holdings and “divest, at a minimum, from any firm that makes guns that are prohibited from being sold in California .”
“CalPERS and CalSTRS should not be invested in any company that makes guns which are illegal in California ,” Mr. Lockyer said in a statement. “These weapons have no place in our communities. Our families and children are safer without them .” A Calpers spokesman could not be immediately reached.
Calstrs, which provides retirement benefits to California school teachers, owns about $4 million in shares of Sturm, Ruger RGR and Co. and $1.7 million shares in Smith and Wesson Holding Corp. SWHC – two publicly traded gun manufacturers that have seen shares fall sharply since Friday’s tragedy. The pension fund owns many of these shares through index funds.
Calstrs spokesman Michael Sicilia said it would take time to scour all of the $154 billion pension fund’s private equity investments for gun-related stakes.
Stephen A. Feinberg, right, is the owner of Cerberus Capital Management. Mr. Feinberg’s father lives in Newtown, Conn. At the same time, Mr. Sicilia said the pension fund will run all its investments through a policy, dubbed “21 Risk Factors ,” which “require that the risks associated with products that pose significant threats to human well-being be taken into account” before the pension fund makes an investment.
Calstrs says it made its investments in Cerberus-run funds in 2003 and 2007 before the 21 Risk Factors were extended to the pension fund’s private equity investments.
Sitting in their offices high above Park Avenue late on Monday, the private equity executives who own the country’s largest gun company received a phone call from one of their most influential investors.
An official at the California teachers’ pension fund, which has $750 million invested with the private equity firm, Cerberus Capital Management, was on the line, raising questions about the firm’s ownership of the Freedom Group, the gun maker that made the rifle used in the Connecticut school shootings.
Hours later, at 1 a.m. on Tuesday, Cerberus said that it was putting the Freedom Group up for sale.
“It is apparent that the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level,” Cerberus said in a statement.
The move by Cerberus is a rare instance of a Wall Street firm bending to concerns about an investment’s societal impact rather than a profit-at-all-costs ethos. Public pension funds like the California one – officially, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, or Calstrs – have hundreds of billions of dollars in private equity and hedge fund investments. While their influence is vast, it is usually exerted behind the scenes and rarely prompts snap business decisions.
Yet in a sign of how deep the shooting rampage in Newtown, Conn., has resonated throughout the country, Cerberus signaled that it wanted to remove itself from the uproar over the nation’s gun laws in seeking to sell Freedom, which makes the Bushmaster rifle used in the massacre.
“As a firm, we are investors, not statesmen or policy makers,” the Cerberus statement said. “It is not our role to take positions, or attempt to shape or influence the gun control policy debate. That is the job of our federal and state legislators.”
While concern from Cerberus’s investors – as well as a swirl of media attention – had an impact on the decision to sell, the leadership of the private equity firm debated through the weekend how to respond to the tragedy and its potential fallout, according to a person familiar with the firm’s discussions. On Monday evening, a small group of Cerberus’s top executives sat around a conference room table and weighed a range of options to respond to the tragedy, including making a large donation to the Newtown community or promoting mental health research and education.
Ultimately, Cerberus decided to make a clean break and sell the gun company. “We believe that this decision allows us to meet our obligations to the investors whose interests we are entrusted to protect without being drawn into the national debate that is more properly pursued by those with the formal charter and public responsibility to do so,” the firm said in its statement.
Calstrs executives and other public officials applauded Cerberus’s action. Thomas P. DiNapoli, the New York state comptroller, said he supported Cerberus’s decision to sell the Freedom Group and ordered a review of the state pension fund’s investments in firearms manufacturers. The $150 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund has $50 million invested with Cerberus .
Cerberus, a private equity and hedge fund firm that manages more than $20 billion, is owned by the billionaire financier Stephen A. Feinberg. His father, Martin Feinberg, lives in Newtown, Conn., where the shootings occurred . The elder Mr. Feinberg did not return telephone calls, but Bloomberg News quoted him as saying that the shooting was “devastating” and “horrendous, truly horrendous.” Stephen Feinberg declined to be interviewed.
It is not clear whether Mr. Feinberg will find a ready buyer for the Freedom Group. Over the last two days, shares of the publicly traded American gunmakers, Sturm, Ruger and Company and Smith and Wesson , have dropped precipitously on fears of increased gun regulation. Several foreign gun manufacturers, including Forjas Taurus of Brazil and Heckler and Koch of Germany, could be possible acquirers, according to a banker familiar with the weapons industry.
Cerberus said it would retain a financial adviser to sell its interests in the Freedom Group and then return the sale proceeds to its investors.
This is hardly the first time that the publicity-shy Mr. Feinberg has come under scrutiny because of a Cerberus holding. In the last decade, during the peak of the leveraged buyout boom, Cerberus made national headlines after buying two of the country’s best-known companies, the automaker Chrysler and the finance arm of General Motors.
Having made those acquisitions just before the financial crisis struck, Cerberus suffered losses on both deals, and Mr. Feinberg told his clients that the firm would in the future stay away from such prominent investments.
Despite that vow, Mr. Feinberg again has found himself in an uncomfortable spotlight. The Freedom Group’s origins date to 2006, when Cerberus acquired Bushmaster Firearms . The firm then consolidated the fragmented gun industry, acquiring at least six other brands and rolling them into one company to create the Freedom Group, which is based in Madison, N.C. Freedom is on track to post about $900 million in revenue this year.
Other brands under the Freedom Group umbrella include Remington Arms, the country’s largest and oldest maker of rifles; Marlin Firearms , a manufacturer of lever-action rifles; and Advanced Armament , a maker of pistol silencers. The company filed for an initial public offering of stock in 2009, but it withdrew the offering last year after its financial performance flagged.
Mr. Feinberg has a penchant for investing in military-related businesses. Cerberus’s holdings include the military contractor IAP Worldwide Services and the satellite provider GeoEye . Cerberus also explored an investment in Blackwater USA , the private security contractor since renamed Academi , but a deal never materialized.
A major Republican donor, Mr. Feinberg has Dan Quayle, the former vice president, and John Snow, the former Treasury secretary, on Cerberus’s payroll. Among the former military leaders on Freedom Group’s board is George A. Joulwan, the onetime supreme allied commander of Europe.
Mr. Feinberg is also an avid shooter and hunter – he favors a Remington 700 – and has a membership at the upscale hunting club Mashomack Preserve Club in Pine Plains, N.Y.
A fellow firearms enthusiast and Cerberus executive, George Kollitides, has served as the Freedom Group’s chief executive since March. Mr. Kollitides is a trustee of the NRA Foundation and a director of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association.
The son of a steel salesman, Mr. Feinberg, 52, was raised in Spring Valley, N.Y., in Rockland County. After graduating from Princeton, he started his Wall Street career working at Drexel Burnham Lambert during the bank’s heyday in the 1980s. After developing a specialty trading in the distressed debt of troubled companies, Mr. Feinberg struck out on his own to start Cerberus.
Though the Freedom Group was unable to complete its initial public offering, the deal has been largely successful, with Cerberus already making a small profit via a dividend payment, a person briefed on the investment said.
If it is able to sell the Freedom Group for additional profit, the beneficiaries would be Cerberus’s investors, which include two of the country’s largest pension funds – Calstrs and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.
On Tuesday, Ricardo Duran, a spokesman for Calstrs, said it would remain an investor with the firm. Calstrs has $600 million invested across two Cerberus funds with interests in the Freedom Group; its share of the Freedom Group investment amounts to a 2.4 percent stake in the gunmaker.
“They are taking a very responsible approach to this and we are happy that they’re selling,” Mr. Duran said.
New York Nears Gun-Control Deal
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers are close to a deal on gun-control measures that would make New York the first state U.S. to pass new firearms restrictions after the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.
The package includes provisions to ban high-capacity ammunition clips, a stricter assault weapons ban and increased penalties for some gun crimes. It could be voted on as soon as Monday, said state Sen. Jeff Klein, the chamber’s top Democrat in a power-sharing arrangement with Republicans.
“I think that when all is said and done, I think we’re going to pass a comprehensive gun bill today,” Mr. Klein said Monday. Asked whether state Sen. Dean Skelos, the Republican majority leader, had committed to bringing a gun-control bill to the floor, Mr. Klein said the governor and Senate and Assembly leaders had agreed on the bill.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, said he believed all sides were “very, very close to a final agreement on a bill.” He said the final legislation would “ban all assault weapons, period,” by closing existing loopholes in state law. Another measure would limit high-capacity magazines from the current maximum of 10 rounds of ammunition to seven rounds.
Republican senators are scheduled to meet Monday afternoon to review the legislation. “I am very confident that we will vote on the comprehensive bill,” Mr. Klein said.
President Barack Obama and a number of states have vowed to enact stringent new laws on firearms after the Dec. 14 shooting that left 20 elementary-school children, six teachers and the alleged gunman’s mother dead. The 20-year-old gunman, Adam Lanza, took his own life, authorities said.
New gun laws have run into opposition in Congress, but Mr. Cuomo has urged lawmakers to make New York the first state to tackle the issue since the Newtown massacre. Mr. Cuomo is also responding to the Christmas Eve shooting deaths of two Rochester-area firefighters who were killed responding to a blaze set by a gunman who later took his own life.
Mr. Silver said among the measures left to be negotiated was a provision related to increasing school security. “We want to give schools some ability to provide security to their students,” he said. “That’s probably the biggest issue that’s outstanding.”
The bill would also include what Mr. Silver said was a “significant expansion” of Kendra’s Law, which allows judges to force involuntary confinement on people who fail to follow through with court-ordered mental-health treatments. Advocates have argued that the current statute, passed in 1999 after the subway-pushing death of death of Kendra Webdale, is riddled with loopholes.
Mr. Klein said Albany’s gun-control package “shows we can work together” because it includes measures both Republicans and Democrats had sought.
“Republicans, it’s very clear, wanted harsher criminal penalties for illegal guns, which is something I agree with. We’re also going to ban assault weapons and limit the number of rounds in a magazine. So I think putting those things together makes it a better bill, and I’m very excited about it,” Mr. Klein said.
The state’s top-ranking Republicans have resisted new gun laws in recent years but have indicated they are willing to change the laws this year. Republicans controlled the state Senate when the assault weapons ban, one of only seven such laws in the nation, was passed under former Republican Gov. George Pataki.
During a radio appearance on “Live from the State Capitol With Fred Dicker,” an Albany radio show earlier Monday, the state’s second-ranking Republican, Deputy Majority Leader Tom Libous, said changes to the state’s gun laws were “inevitable.”
Mr. Libous said that changes to the gun laws would include measures that many “true Second Amendment believers are going to have an issue with,” including an enhanced assault weapons ban.
The President Is Announcing That He And The Administration Will:
1. Issue A Presidential Memorandum To Require Federal Agencies To Make Relevant Data Available To The Federal Background Check System.
2. Address Unnecessary Legal Barriers, Particularly Relating To The Health Insurance Portability And Accountability Act, That May Prevent States From Making Information Available To The Background Check System.
3. Improve Incentives For States To Share Information With The Background Check System.
4. Direct The Attorney General To Review Categories Of Individuals Prohibited From Having A Gun To Make Sure Dangerous People Are Not Slipping Through The Cracks.
5. Propose Rulemaking To Give Law Enforcement The Ability To Run A Full Background Check On An Individual Before Returning A Seized Gun.
6. Publish A Letter From ATF To Federally Licensed Gun Dealers Providing Guidance On How To Run Background Checks For Private Sellers.
7. Launch A National Safe And Responsible Gun Ownership Campaign.
8. Review Safety Standards For Gun Locks And Gun Safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).
9. Issue A Presidential Memorandum To Require Federal Law Enforcement To Trace Guns Recovered In Criminal Investigations.
10. Release A DOJ Report Analyzing Information On Lost And Stolen Guns And Make It Widely Available To Law Enforcement.
11. Nominate An ATF Director.
12. Provide Law Enforcement, First Responders, And School Officials With Proper Training For Active Shooter Situations.
13. Maximize Enforcement Efforts To Prevent Gun Violence And Prosecute Gun Crime.
14. Issue A Presidential Memorandum Directing The Centers For Disease Control To Research The Causes And Prevention Of Gun Violence.
15. Direct The Attorney General To Issue A Report On The Availability And Most Effective Use Of New Gun Safety Technologies And Challenge The Private Sector To Develop Innovative Technologies.
16. Clarify That The Affordable Care Act Does Not Prohibit Doctors Asking Their Patients About Guns In Their Homes.
17. Release A Letter To Health-Care Providers Clarifying That No Federal Law Prohibits Them From Reporting Threats Of Violence To Law-Enforcement Authorities.
18. Provide Incentives For Schools To Hire School Resource Officers.
19. Develop Model Emergency-Response Plans For Schools, Houses Of Worship And Institutions Of Higher Education.
20. Release A Letter To State Health Officials Clarifying The Scope Of Mental-Health Services That Medicaid Plans Must Cover.
21. Finalize Regulations Clarifying Essential Health Benefits And Parity Requirements Within ACA Exchanges.
22. Commit To Finalizing Mental-Health-Parity Regulations.
23. Launch A National Dialogue Led By Secretaries Sebelius And Duncan On Mental Health.
What do you think? Post comments.
* My Ideas On How To Limit Mass Shootings AND The Availability Of Guns
* Petition: Reenact the Federal Assault Weapons Ban and Make it Law!
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