I am in Pittsburgh this weekend, where the National Rifle Association is holding its annual convention, their first since the shooting in Tucson more than three months ago. I have asked the NRA to meet with me to discuss how we can prevent communities and families across the United States from suffering a tragedy like the one that we experienced in Tucson. I am here because I believe in my heart that, after Tucson, real change is possible.
On that quiet January morning in Tucson, my life and the lives of so many other innocent people changed forever. Six innocent people lost their lives and 13 others were injured, including my Congresswoman, Gabby Giffords. Thanks to the courage of Bill Badger and Roger Salzberger, who tackled the shooter, I was able to grab his ammunition clip from him before he was able to reload and inflict even more destruction.
But Jared Loughner never should have been allowed to purchase a gun in the first place. And that's why I've traveled to Pittsburgh this weekend -- to ask the NRA to talk with me and other victims of gun violence about how we can fix the background check system so that we can keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people like Mr. Loughner.
I know that when many Americans hear "NRA Convention" they imagine extremes from both sides of the decades-old gun control debate on full display: stubborn gun owners, angry protests and a willing news media eager to cover emotional tidal waves and shouting matches.
For Americans tired of the polarized gun debate, this convention, this time, is different -- in part because of what happened in Tucson.
The spotlight isn't shining on the fringes anymore -- it's shining on the common ground we share on an issue that can make a real difference in the spread of illegal guns. That's the difference: after the horror of Tucson, we're talking about how to keep guns out of dangerous hands -- not the legal gun ownership that is enshrined in the Second Amendment.
Acting on this new common ground could help bring an end to the 34 daily gun-related murders each day in America and help our police officers keep families safer, without impeding one inch on the right to bear arms.
Here's the story.
In 1995, Congress passed and President Clinton signed into law a sensible background check law -- with the NRA's support -- that requires gun dealers to run a simple two-minute background check on gun buyers to make sure they're not criminals or seriously mentally ill.
Unfortunately, a big loophole emerged. The background law applied only to gun dealers -- brick and mortar shops and professional dealers -- but not private sellers, many of whom still sell hundreds of guns at gun shows.
The problem is that forty percent of all gun sales are now made through private sellers. This loophole is a major way for criminals and other dangerous people get their guns. It's how Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho and the Columbine killers got their guns.
This weekend, an unprecedented coalition of more than a hundred victims and family members of victims of gun violence, many of whom are gun owners themselves, and I are very politely asking the NRA to talk. We've mailed a letter, taken out a full-page ads in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Times Review and we are even commissioning a truck to drive the ad around the convention center.
We're asking NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre to join us in seizing on this rare opportunity to make a change that 86 percent of all Americans and 81 percent of gun owners say needs to happen. Because the NRA supports background checks, and Mr. LaPierre has said he wants the checks to be more effective so they catch people who the law says can't have a gun, it stands to reason they should be willing to talk about how to make those checks comprehensive and unavoidable.
Joining me in Pittsburgh are Reverend Glenn Grayson, whose 18-year-old son, Jeron, was shot and killed by an underage child with a gun just 6 months and Lori Haas, whose daughter was shot in the Virginia Tech massacre. We simply want this sensible change made now and we want the NRA to help make it happen.
Tucson brought America together in search of not just common ground, but a shared cause. Let's turn this cause into action, into common sense reality and into the kind of politics many Americans so anxiously want.