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Ex-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Chicago to back gun bill

Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords greets Delphine Cherry, who lost her daughter Tyesa and son Tyler to gun violence. Giffords was in Chicago to endorse legislation co-sponsored by state Sen. Don Harmon (background) that places additional requirements on gun dealers and their employees. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords visited Chicago on Thursday to support state legislation calling for tighter restrictions on gun dealers to ensure firearms don’t end up in the hands of criminals.

Giffords’ voice may not be as strong as it was before the 2011 assassination attempt that left her with a bullet wound in the head, but it carries a lot of weight.

“Now is the time to come together, to be responsible,” Giffords said Thursday at a Near North Side Chicago Park District fieldhouse. “Democrats, Republicans, everyone. We must never stop fighting. Fight! Fight! Fight! Be bold. Be courageous. The nation’s counting on you.”

State Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), who is co-sponsoring the bill — which he plans to introduce next week — joined Giffords to explain the legislation.

“Our proposal would make some small, common-sense changes to Illinois law, like requiring criminal background checks for gun dealer employees,” Harmon said.

“Gun store employees often have access to huge inventories of guns and it’s just common sense to make sure the dealers and employees are just as responsible as the buyers.”

The bill calls for training and education for gun dealer employees on how to properly initiate background checks, and gives the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, as well as law-enforcement agencies, the ability to inspect the inventories of gun dealers “so that we can make sure that gun dealers are held accountable for missing firearms,” Harmon said.

“We know that licensed gun dealers are the most common conduit between gun manufacturers and the public. We also know that unfortunately some irresponsible and negligent dealers fuel illegal gun trafficking,” he said.

Gabrielle Giffords, the former U.S. Representative, joined Illinois leaders to announce the "Illinois Gun Violence Prevention Coalition," an effort to build support for the Gun Dealer Licensing Act. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Gabrielle Giffords, a former U.S. representative, joined Illinois leaders to announce the “Illinois Gun Violence Prevention Coalition,” an effort to build support for the Gun Dealer Licensing Act. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The legislation is intended to help combat straw purchases, in which someone who can’t purchase a gun legally — because, for instance, they would fail the background check — finds someone else to buy it for them. Such purchases put guns in the hands of criminals, Harmon said.

Harmon was asked why this legislation would succeed where others have failed.

In the past, “I think we picked the wrong fights,” Harmon said. “This bill doesn’t take anything away from law-abiding gun owners. It just asks gun dealers to follow responsible business practices.”

Despite the fact that federal law requires dealers to be licensed by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, loopholes exist, Harmon said.

The legislation is part of a trend for states to take action because progress at the federal level is stagnant, Harmon said.

“Wooo!” Giffords shouted at one point, in support.

Besides lending support to the bill, Giffords, surrounded by medical professionals, gun violence activists and chiefs of police from several suburbs, helped launch the Illinois Gun Violence Prevention Coalition.

Giffords’ husband, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, was in town last week to promote the legislation. He met with the editorial board of the suburban Daily Herald newspaper.

Kelly’s twin brother, Scott Kelly, also is an astronaut and recently returned from a 340-day stay on the International Space Station.

Giffords and her husband founded Americans for Responsible Solutions after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. It’s a non-profit organization that encourages elected officials to stand up for solutions to prevent gun violence.