- Associated Press - Thursday, March 16, 2017

PHOENIX (AP) - Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords with husband and retired astronaut Capt. Mark Kelly on Thursday announced a new Arizona group focused on passing gun safety legislation.

Giffords and Kelly announced the bipartisan group known as Arizona Coalition for Common Sense during a news conference in Phoenix, saying state leaders need to act to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

Giffords was nearly killed by an assassin’s bullets in 2011.

The couple says Arizona has the 18th highest number of gun deaths per capita in the U.S. and that 60 percent of domestic violence deaths in Arizona involve a gun.

“We’re here to say that it’s time for our leaders to do more to address the gun violence crisis that’s tearing communities apart and that makes our country and this state stand out in the worst of ways,” Kelly said. “We also all know that as Arizonans we have a strong and proud tradition of responsible gun ownership. But we also have a serious gun violence problem.”

The coalition includes veterans, business leaders, law enforcement officials and others. Its goal is to get legislation passed that makes it tougher for domestic abusers and people with dangerous mental health issues to get guns.

Giffords was shot in the head at a public event in Tucson in 2011. Six people died and Giffords was among 13 injured in the attack. The killer, Jared Loughner, was sentenced to life in prison. Giffords suffers from a language disorder and is partially paralyzed.

Giffords and Kelly also run their own organization, Americans for Responsible Solutions, which also aims to curb gun violence.

“Stopping gun violence takes courage, the courage to do what’s right, the courage of new ideas,” Giffords said. “Now is the time to come together, be responsible - Democrats, Republicans, everyone. We must never stop fighting.”

But Kelly says he knows it’s going to be an uphill battle in Arizona, a staunchly pro-gun state with a Legislature to match. The Arizona Legislature in this year’s session, which began in January, has already considered several bills expanding gun rights, such as one that would ban any Arizona town or city from enacting any laws that would require background checks at gun shows or through private party sales. Another bill would repeal landmark legislation that made random or celebratory gunfire a felony.

“It’s the West,” Kelly said. “So it does get a little trickier. We are not ignorant to that fact, that these things are a little harder here. But you know what? Now we have experience at this.”

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