TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Tuesday was not just a day for Tucson to remember the victims of the deadly shooting that severely injured then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. It was also a day when residents could see firsthand the nation's gun debate play out in a busy parking lot outside a city police station.
On one side was a councilman who supports gun control leading an effort to give $50 grocery store gift cards to anyone who turned in their firearms to police. On the other was an event organized by a state senator that turned into an open, unregulated and legal marketplace for firearms.
"We have a fundamental hole in the private sales of guns. You can walk up right in front of a cop and buy a gun, no background check, nothing," said Councilman Steve Kozachik. "How much more flawed can the system be?"
The people who bought guns from each other declined repeated requests for comments. The senator and gun rights advocate didn't stay at the event, but earlier said he was angered by the timing of Kozachik's event and that paying $50 for a gun was such little money that it amounted to theft.
The dueling gun buyback programs — and the annual ringing of bells to remember the six dead and 13 injured, including Giffords, during the January 2011 attack — came as the congresswoman and her husband announced that they were forming a political action committee aimed at preventing gun violence.
Giffords and husband Mark Kelly, a former astronaut, discussed the effort in an op-ed published in USA Today and in an interview on ABC News. The interview also provided a glimpse of Giffords' long recovery since being shot in the head two years ago.
She does speech and physical therapy and yoga. She has a service dog named Nelson who helps her keep balance and guides her. She recently gained more movement in her right foot and can walk faster. She still struggles with her vision, especially on her periphery. She said family is what makes her the happiest.
Giffords struggled to speak in complete sentences, but provided several one-word answers to anchor Diane Sawyer in describing her recovery and response to the shootings in Tucson and Connecticut. She used the word "enough" to react to the thought of children getting killed in a classroom. She said "daggers" to recount her tense, face-to-face encounter with shooter Jared Lee Loughner at his sentencing in November. She said "sad" to describe his mental illness. She is frustrated that her recovery has not progressed more quickly.
Kelly and Giffords wrote in the op-ed that their Americans for Responsible Solutions initiative would help raise money to support greater gun control efforts and take on the powerful gun lobby.
"Achieving reforms to reduce gun violence and prevent mass shootings will mean matching gun lobbyists in their reach and resources," the couple wrote. They said that it will "raise funds necessary to balance the influence of the gun lobby."
There was already some concern among gun control advocates that they were losing the momentum they hoped to have after the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead in December. Congress was already occupied with budget concerns.
Giffords' announcement brought back memories from the 1980s, when Jim and Sarah Brady formed the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Brady, then-President Ronald Reagan's press secretary, was wounded in the 1981 presidential assassination attempt by a mentally ill gunman.
Brady's organization has been among the most vocal champions of gun control since then, but it remains to be seen whether Giffords' group can better compete against the National Rifle Association and its huge fundraising and political clout.
The NRA spent at least $24 million in the 2012 election cycle, including $16.8 million through its political action committee and $7.5 million through its affiliated Institute for Legislative Action. By comparison, the Brady Campaign spent around $5,800.
And when it comes to direct lobbying of lawmakers, the NRA was also dominant. Through July 1, the NRA spent $4.4 million to lobby Congress, compared with the Brady Campaign's $60,000.