Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Captain Mark Kelly were in Denver Tuesday to launch a new organization advocating for stricter gun laws.
Colorado Gun Owners for Safety is a coalition of sport shooters, gun collectors and hunters, like Kelly himself.
“I come from this issue, and so does Gabby, as gun owners. I served in the military for 25 years. I’ve been a gun owner my entire adult life,” he said. “Guns have always been important to us but we also feel that laws are important, too, to try to protect people from being shot and killed. And that’s where I think our country has gotten a little bit off track.”
The coalition is the first of its kind Giffords has backed. Giffords became an advocate for stricter gun laws after she was shot 8 years ago at a political event in Tucson.
Kelly said gun violence in the United States is a public health issue not seen in other developed countries.
In 2017, nearly 40,000 people were fatally shot, setting a record-high number, according to the Center for Disease Control. Colorado accounted for 812 of those deaths. The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Violence reports the state has the 20th highest gun death rate in the United States. The overall economic cost of gun violence in Colorado is about $3.5 billion a year, according to the Giffords Law Center.
The members of Colorado Gun Owners for Safety said they have come together to advocate for two initiatives. First is a red flag law, allowing family members or law enforcement to file an order to temporarily remove someone’s firearms if they are a significant risk to themselves or others. The group also wants a law requiring lost or stolen guns to be reported to law enforcement.
“We, the Colorado Gun Owners for Safety, are pro-Second Amendment gun owners and hunters,” said Mike Heyka, founding member of the coalition. “We are very deeply troubled by the frequent carnage we see in the news related to gun violence, suicides and mass shootings. We are committed to supporting sound and reasonable gun laws that serve the safety the citizens of our state.”
In 2013, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill requiring universal background checks in Colorado. Kelly said laws like that one are important to pass nationwide, as well as ones preventing domestic abusers from owning or buying firearms.
“It would be great if this group was bigger and we had Republican gun owners," Kelley said. "We want this to be as bipartisan as possible... I’d be perfectly happy if we can get a lot more Republican gun owners on our side in this debate.”
Giffords said fighting gun violence takes courage.
“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 is counting on you,” she said.
Editor's Note: This story was updated to correct a transcription error on a quote from Mark Kelly that discussed Republican gun owners and bipartisanship.