Gabrielle Giffords

Ross D. Franklin

Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords returned Wednesday to the northwest-side grocery store where she was nearly slain on Jan. 8, 2011, to advocate for expanded background checks for gun buyers.

She and her husband, Mark Kelly, stopped at a memorial to the shooting victims in front of the Safeway where she laid a small bouquet of white flowers before joining a contingent of survivors and relatives of the six people killed and 13 injured in the shooting spree by Jared Lee Loughner.

The group organized a news conference to call upon Arizona Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain to close the private-seller loophole that allows gun sellers to bypass background checks for firearms sold on the Internet or at gun shows. Other survivors held similar news conferences Tuesday.

Had the loophole been closed, Loughner would not have been able to legally purchase the gun used in the mass shooting, Kelly said.

"It was clear that the shooter had a history of mental illness, but he had easy access to a gun. Admittedly, he purchased the gun with a background check, but if things were different, he would have failed that background check," Kelly said. "Not only did he have a history of mental illness, he had history of drug use that the United States government knew about.

"Unfortunately, due to some failures in our system, it's often the case that records about drug use, mental illness and even people's criminal backgrounds are not entered into the National Instant Criminal Background check system. If that information was there, it's pretty clear that the man who did this ... would have failed that background check."

Suzi Hileman recalled taking her excited 9-year-old neighbor, Christina-Taylor Green, to the "Congress on Your Corner" event to meet Giffords, whom Christina-Taylor referred to as "a role model who accessorizes."

Shots rang out before the elementary-school student, who was fatally wounded, got to meet Giffords.

"We're here calling on our senators, elected representatives, to act as our senators, to represent us, to remember what happened here, not to let it be a memory but to have it be one of all too many calls to action to take a responsible step toward making this country a safer place, a place where a 9-year-old can really get the chance to shake their congresswoman's hand, can have a chance to grow up and make the kind of change that Christina was telling me she wanted to make before the bullets started to fly," Hileman said.

Other speakers included survivors Randy Gardner, Pam Simon, Ken Doruskha and Emily Nottingham, mother of slain Giffords staffer Gabe Zimmerman.

Giffords was the final speaker in the somber reunion of shooting survivors at the site of the attack.

"Be bold. Be courageous. Please support background checks," she urged legislators.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected today to discuss ways to reduce gun violence, including the implementation of universal background checks.

Giffords and Kelly, through their advocacy organization Americans for Responsible Solutions, submitted a letter Wednesday signed by several people affected by the Jan. 8 shooting to McCain and Flake.

"At a time when so many people are skeptical of Congress, and in the face of special interests who do not share our commitment to keep communities safe, you can do something simple that will save lives. You can vote to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people," the letter said.

Contact reporter Veronica Cruz at or at 573-4224.