As senators struggle with how to vote on new gun control bills, few have the kind of pressure that Sen. Jeff Flake is facing.
The Arizona Republican, who won his Senate seat last year after six terms in the House, is good friends with former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona Democrat whose 2011 shooting at a Tucson constituent event began to ramp up pressure for gun control.
But Mr. Flake is also a libertarian-leaning Republican from a red state with a long history of gun rights. He said this week that he plans to vote against the latest proposal to expand background checks to all firearms purchases at gun shows or on the Internet.
That put Mr. Flake in the political cross hairs of Ms. Giffords and her husband, former astronaut and retired Navy Capt. Mark Kelly, who together launched a nonprofit gun control advocacy group on Jan. 8, the second anniversary of the Arizona shooting.
Ms. Giffords visited Capitol Hill on Tuesday to rally Senate Democrats and to dedicate a room at the Capitol to Gabe Zimmerman, her former staffer who was killed when a gunman opened fire at one of the congresswoman’s outdoor town halls.
Ms. Giffords was severely wounded and five others were killed in that shooting.
Now, she and her husband are pushing for compromise legislation that would expand background checks to those purchasing firearms online and at gun shows.
It carves out exemptions for private transactions between family members and friends. Currently, only federally licensed dealers are legally required to perform the checks.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Mr. Kelly said the timing of Mr. Flake’s posting was “not ideal” and that it presented another example of a senator looking for a reason to vote no.
“I experienced this last night when I was shown the Facebook posting of Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Gabby’s good friend, who posted that he intends to vote ‘no’ on this legislation,” Mr. Kelly said at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “It appears to me that maybe he actually hasn’t read the bill, because his concerns are clearly addressed in the piece of legislation.”
Informed of Mr. Kelly’s comments Tuesday, Mr. Flake smiled.
“I admire both of them greatly,” he said. “I’m talking to them this afternoon, and I’ve talked to them a number of times.”
Mr. Kelly, though, said their friendship wouldn’t stop him from possibly backing an opponent to Mr. Flake when he is up for re-election in five years.
“You know, friendship is one thing,” Mr. Kelly said. “Saving people’s lives, especially first-graders’, is another.”