WASHINGTON – Ex-lawmaker and shooting victim Gabrielle Giffords made a brief but impassioned appeal in Congress Wednesday, telling lawmakers "you must act" to find ways to reduce gun violence.
"Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying," Giffords, a former congresswoman who was shot in the head two years ago at a massacre in her home state of Arizona, told a hushed Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
"We must do something. It will be hard, but the time is now," she said in a slow, deliberative tone that has marked her speech during her extensive recovery.
"You must act," she said, staring down the panel of senators before her, several of whom hugged her as she entered the hearing room.
"Be bold, be courageous. Americans are counting on you."
Giffords, escorted into the room by her husband, the former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, was speaking as an unannounced witness at the year's first congressional hearing on the causes of and possible solutions for gun violence.
The hearing comes six weeks after a gunman stormed into a school in Newtown, Connecticut and killed 20 small children and six adults.
And it pits Giffords and Kelly, who plan to launch a gun control advocacy organization, against fellow witness Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, the gun lobby's leading voice.
"Proposing more gun control laws -- while failing to enforce the thousands we already have -- is not a serious solution to reducing crime," LaPierre said in prepared testimony.
"Law-abiding gun owners will not accept blame for the acts of violent or deranged criminals," he added. "Nor do we believe the government should dictate what we can lawfully own and use to protect our families."
The Newtown massacre prompted a spirited national debate about gun rights, and led President Barack Obama to unveil a list of proposals on how to reduce gun violence, including making background checks mandatory for all gun sales and purchases, and reinstatement of an assault weapons ban.
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