Two and half years after being shot in the head, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords visited a shooting range and fired a gun, her first stop on a seven-state, seven-day bus tour to push for expanded background checks for firearms purchases.
Accompanied by her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, on their “Rights and Responsibilities Tour,” Giffords, wearing a green cardigan and an arm brace, smiled and waved after she shot the gun at the Clark County Shooting Complex in Las Vegas. Kelly also got in some target practice at the range.
This was the first time Giffords shot a gun since a mentally ill man shot her and killed six others in her congressional district in Tucson, Ariz., in early 2011.
Longtime Giffords spokeswoman Pia Carusone said Kelly and Giffords will be meeting on the tour with a “coalition of unlikely allies that support commonsense gun measures,” likely including “gun owners, Republicans, independents, hunters, all sort of people.”
Giffords and Kelly’s spirits were high and Monday was a “great kick-off” to what is going to be a “really strong tour,” Carusone said.
The tour also visited the Latin Chamber of Commerce and met with community leaders today before heading off to its next stop: Anchorage, Alaska.
In April, the Senate defeated legislation that called for tighter background checks on gun purchases, and Giffords and Kelly will stop in some of the states with senators who voted against the measure in a bid to get them to switch their votes.
Carusone noted that Kelly and Giffords potentially could meet with senators who voted against the Manchin-Toomey background check proposal and their plan is to meet with those senators that “are in state and available.”
“We are with Republicans [on the tour who] we may disagree with on other issues, but on this issue they want bipartisanship and they want Congress to make some progress on this,” Carusone said.
Besides Nevada and Alaska, the tour also will stop in North Dakota, North Carolina, Ohio, Maine and New Hampshire.
The goal is to apply pressure to Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.; Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska; Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio; and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., all of whom voted against the legislation.
Giffords and Kelly will also stop in North Carolina to thank Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and Maine to thank Republican Sen. Susan Collins for supporting the background-check legislation.
The Arizona Democrat’s group commissioned polling in individual states, which showed there is wide support for background checks in the states where senators voted against the legislation. An ABC News poll in April showed 86 percent of Americans support extending background checks to gun sales at gun shows and online.
“We don’t rule out any option that gets us to the place where members of Congress will do what the American people are asking,” Kelly said in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Monday when asked whether Kelly and Giffords’ group, Americans for Responsible Solutions, would consider supporting primary challenges to Democrats who voted against the Manchin-Toomey background check proposal.
Besides Begich and Heitkamp, those Democrats are Max Baucus of Montana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. Begich and Pryor are running for re-election in 2014.
The pace of the tour is jam packed and, despite the distance from the lower 48 states, Carusone said it was important for them to travel to Alaska, adding that the state is “extremely unique,” but in many ways similar to Giffords’ native southern Arizona.
“A lot of people skip Alaska, and we didn’t want to do that. We are going up there to learn, but the vibe is similar to southern Arizona,” Carusone said.
She added that Alaskans, like Arizonans, feel “far from the federal government” and have a strong “libertarian streak.”
In January, Giffords and Kelly announced the creation of Americans for Responsible Solutions, and sat down with ABC News’ Diane Sawyer to discuss the initiative and mark the second anniversary of the Tucson shooting. Giffords and Kelly said the December shooting at the Sandy Hook School meant they had to do something more, with Giffords telling Sawyer, “Enough.”
“After the shooting in Tucson, there was talk about addressing some of these issues, [and] again after [a movie theater massacre in] Aurora,” Colo., Kelly said. “I’m hopeful that this time is different, and I think it is. Twenty first-graders’ being murdered in their classrooms is a very personal thing for everybody.”
ABC News’ Michael Falcone contributed to this report.