Gabby Giffords brings her bus tour to Portsmouth

The former Arizona congresswoman urges locals to fight gun violence

“Stopping gun violence takes courage — the courage to do what’s right, the courage of new ideas,” Gabrielle Giffords said in Portsmouth on Wednesday. “I’ve seen great courage when my life was on the line. Now is the time to come together, be responsible Democrats, Republicans, everyone. We must never stop fighting. Fight, fight, fight! Be bold. Be courageous. The nation’s counting on you.”

It’s a speech the former congresswoman has delivered verbatim at events across the country as she pushes for measures to prevent gun violence. Giffords, who was shot in the head in 2011 as she addressed constituents in Tucson, Ariz., is co-founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions, a super PAC that supports gun-law reforms. She was in Portsmouth as part of the Vocal Majority Tour, a six-week bus tour bringing attention to gun-control issues and advocating for political candidates who support gun-control laws.

Portsmouth was the 18th stop on the tour, which will travel to a total of 47 cities in 14 states over 42 days. The local event took place at the Portsmouth Democratic Committee’s campaign headquarters on Brewery Lane.

Vocal Majority Tour bus

The Vocal Majority Tour bus in Portsmouth.

Featuring New Hampshire as one of the 14 states on the tour was no accident, as the Granite State features one of the most high-profile U.S. Senate races in the country. Speakers at the event encouraged volunteers to campaign on behalf of Gov. Maggie Hassan in her bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte. They also spoke in support of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

One of those speakers was Portsmouth Police Commissioner Joe Plaia, who said that “nine out of every 10 gun owners in New Hampshire” support closing the background-check loophole. (Organizers cited a December 2015 report from Public Policy Polling, which found that 89 percent of New Hampshire voters support background checks on all gun purchases; the poll was not specific to gun owners.) Plaia said Hassan supports closing the gun control loophole, while Ayotte has opposed such measures in the Senate.

“So why would Kelly Ayotte vote against a bipartisan plan that nine out of every 10 Granite State gun owner supports? I’ll tell you why. I think it’s because the Washington gun lobby has told her to do so,” Plaia said.

The “background-check loophole” refers to a provision under federal law that allows private sellers to sell firearms at gun shows and other venues without performing background checks on the buyers.

“Today, here in New Hampshire, as in most states around our country, a domestic abuser or felon fresh out of prison has the option of buying a gun without a background check, no questions asked,” Plaia said. “It’s a dangerous system.”

Portsmouth Police Commissioner Joe Plaia.

Portsmouth Police Commissioner Joe Plaia with Giffords to his left.

According to Plaia, in states that have passed laws requiring criminal background checks on all handgun sales, 46 percent fewer women are shot to death by their intimate partners, 48 percent fewer law-enforcement officers are shot to death, and there are 48 percent fewer firearm suicides. (The figures appear to come from the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, a nonprofit organization that researches gun violence in America and pushes for gun-control laws.)

Plaia sought to link Ayotte to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who he said also opposes gun-control measures. Ayotte recently retracted her support for Trump and has been trying to distance herself from the divisive Republican nominee.

Pia Carusone of Americans for Responsible Solutions (ARS) said the organization has helped enact tighter gun-control laws “in more than a dozen states.” ARS has also pushed to get candidates elected who support gun-control measures.

Giffords and her husband, Navy veteran and retired NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, started ARS in 2013, the year after she resigned from Congress to focus on recovering from her gunshot wound. She was one of 19 people shot during the 2011 rampage in Tuscon; six of the victims died, including a 9-year-old girl. According to Carusone, ARS now has more than a million members.

Gabrielle Giffords

We must never stop fighting. Fight, fight, fight!