Retired Navy Capt. Mark Kelly is an unlikely gun grabber.
Kelly flew combat missions in the first Gulf War in A-6E Intruders under enemy fire and went on to fly four space shuttle missions. He’s a gun owner himself.
But he’s also the husband of former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in January 2011 while hosting a “Congress on the Corner” event in Tucson, Ariz.
That’s why Kelly and Giffords are now criss-crossing the country, visiting states with U.S. senators who cast votes against an amendment to extend existing background checks to private-party gun sales. The campaign — sponsored by Americans for Responsible Solutions — kicked off Monday in Las Vegas and included a visit by Kelly and Giffords to the Clark County Shooting Complex, an unlikely venue to demonstrate the campaign isn’t anti-gun so much as it’s anti-gun in the wrong hands.
Although background checks are required for gun purchases from federally licensed firearms dealers, they’re not required for sales between private parties, including those conducted at gun shows or online. Kelly has campaigned for proposals that would extend the background check requirement to all gun sales, including a bill that passed the Nevada Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval.
Now, the focus is back on the U.S. Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid has indicated a revived background check bill may return. (During the last go-round, Reid voted for checks, while Sen. Dean Heller voted against them.)
Kelly pointed to a new poll that shows voters disagree with Heller’s vote and would be more inclined to support Heller if he changed his mind.
According to the poll of 600 registered voters conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, 84 percent of Nevadans support universal background checks, including 75 percent of Republicans, 83 percent of gun owners and even 69 percent of households with a membership in the National Rifle Association. (The poll has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.)
The poll found most Nevadans — 73 percent, in fact — didn’t know how Heller voted on the background check amendment in April. (That may be due, in part, to Heller himself. The senator has written letters to constituents and made press statements saying he supports the idea of strengthening background checks, despite his no vote on the measure.)
But when voters found out how Heller voted, 40 percent said they were less likely to vote for him, and just 18 percent said they were more likely to vote for him. When read two statements about the issue, voters by a margin of 64 percent to 31 percent said they wanted him to change his mind, and 37 percent say they would be more likely to vote for him if he did.
I sent Heller spokeswoman Chandler Smith the poll results, which Americans for Responsible Solutions had offered to share with Heller to no avail. By email, she said simply, “Senator Heller’s position has not changed.” I followed up to ask if she’d received the poll document and whether the senator was aware of its contents, but I got no reply.
Although I am cynical enough to not expect a change of heart from Heller — once a politician takes a stand, changing it exposes him or her to charges of flip-flopping — Kelly is more optimistic. The entire purpose of the seven-day, seven-state tour that will take him and Giffords from Alaska to New Hampshire is to change minds.
“It seems that it would be in his favor to vote for it, if it comes up again,” Kelly said.
He admits the measure won’t stop all gun violence, such as October’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. “But if we could just reduce that [gun violence] rate, it would be worth it, and we have an obligation to try.”
Indeed, we do.
Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or ssebelius@ reviewjournal.com.