WASHINGTON — An Oklahoma woman's defense of her child against intruders became part of the debate over gun control Wednesday during a contentious Senate committee hearing here that also featured a dramatic plea from former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
One witness at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing said the case of Blanchard mom Sarah McKinley, who shot and killed a man during a home invasion in 2011, illustrated why guns were “the great equalizer” for women.
That witness, Washington attorney Gayle S. Trotter, later sparred with a Democratic senator about the gun McKinley used.
Giffords, who was shot in the head during an attack that killed six people in Tucson in 2011, made a brief appearance, accompanied by her husband, retired Navy pilot and astronaut Mark Kelly.
Speaking slowly, and acknowledging the difficulty of speech, Giffords said, “Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something. It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be bold, be courageous. Americans are counting on you.”
The hearing was prompted by gun control proposals made by President Barack Obama and legislation offered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in the wake of the school shootings last month in Newtown, Conn. It focused on the effectiveness of the background check system and banning ownership of some semi-automatic weapons.
Giffords and Kelly recently established a group called Americans for Responsible Solutions. Kelly testified that holes in the law “make a mockery of our background check system.”
Obama and many lawmakers want to extend background checks to gun shows and other private sales, while Feinstein has proposed banning 157 different semi-automatic weapons and magazines that hold more than ten rounds.
Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and CEO of the National Rifle Association, angered some Democratic senators by dismissing the effectiveness of background checks and certain weapon bans.
“I mean this discussion … I mean I sit here and listen to it and my reaction is how little it has to do with making the country and our kids safe and how much it has to do with this decade-long, or two-decade-long gun ban agenda that we don't even enforce the laws that are on the books.
“My problem with criminals is you're never going to get criminals to go through universal background checks.”
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., shot back, “Mr. LaPierre, that's the point. The criminals won't go to purchase the guns because there will be a background check. We'll stop them at the original purchase. You missed that point completely.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said background checks required of licensed gun dealers since 1994 had prevented 1.7 million prohibited purchases.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, has been working with a bipartisan group of senators on legislation to expand background checks beyond licensed dealers. Coburn, a staunch defender of Second Amendment rights, said in an interview, “I really think the mentally ill need to be prevented from getting guns.”
Trotter, an attorney with the Independent Women's Forum, cited McKinley's case in her testimony and said violent criminals rarely use guns to threaten or attack women. That makes guns the great equalizer for women, she said.
Trotter also said the proposed ban on semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines could put women at a disadvantage.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said McKinley, whose intruder wielded a knife, didn't use one of the weapons proposed to be banned. McKinley used a shotgun.
“You cannot understand,” Trotter said. “You are not a woman stuck in her house having to defend her children, not able to leave her child, not able to go seek safety, on the phone with 911 and she cannot get the police there fast enough to protect her child. And she's not used to being in a firefight.”
Whitehouse said, “My point simply is that she did it adequately and successfully with lawful firearms and without the kind of firepower that was brought to bear so that the 12th, 13th, 14th shots could be fired by the man who shot Giffords.”