BOSTON (AP) — On the eve of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords is challenging Washington leaders not to ignore gun violence.
The former Democratic congresswoman is featured in a new television ad campaign set to air immediately before and after the president’s speech. In the ad, Giffords faces the camera and says, “Congress is afraid of the gun lobby.”
“Tell Washington it’s too dangerous to wait,” she says in a slightly slurred voice.
Giffords, 43, is still recovering from a brain injury suffered in 2011 when a mentally ill man shot her in the head as she met with constituents outside an Arizona shopping center. Six people were killed in the attack.
Obama is not expected to make any new gun control push in this year’s speech after making it the emotional highlight of last year’s address.
Giffords was first lady Michelle Obama’s guest last year, when the president repeatedly declared that victims of gun violence — Giffords and Newtown, Conn., school children among them — deserved a congressional vote on legislation expanding background checks for gun sales. Such a proposal was subsequently voted down in the Democratic-led Senate and never brought to a vote in the Republican-controlled House.
In the new ad, Giffords says that 9 out 10 Americans support background checks.
“They make it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to get guns,” she says.
The ad is part of a national cable advertising campaign set to run on CNN and MSNBC before and after the speech. It’s being paid for by Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group Giffords founded with her husband, retired NASA space shuttle commander Mark Kelly. The organization has raised tens of millions of dollars to help influence the gun control debate ahead of the 2014 midterm elections.
As part of a larger effort to work around Congress, Giffords and Kelly are scheduled to appear before the Washington State legislature on Tuesday, hours before Obama’s speech. They plan to testify in favor of a state initiative to expand background checks — just the second time Giffords has testified before a legislative panel since her shooting.
White House spokesman Jay Carney on Monday declined to comment on whether the president would address gun control in his speech, but said, “The president’s commitment to taking common sense steps to reduce gun violence remains very strong.”
Carney said Obama “is very disappointed by Congress’ failure to heed the will of the overwhelming majority of the American people in blue states and red states and purple states to expand background checks. But he committed then and he remains committed now to taking action where he can to reducing gun violence.”
Kelly called the inaction on Capitol Hill “remarkable.”
“Congress has done nothing because many politicians are listening to the gun lobby when they should be listening to their constituents,” he said.
Associated Press writer Nedra Pickler in Washington contributed to this report.