Survivors of the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting and members of anti-gun violence organizations gathered Tuesday in front of Sen. Jeff Flake's Tucson office, a short distance from the grocery store where the shooting happened, to encourage the freshman senator to support proposed mandatory background checks for all gun sales.
Flake is part of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, which will consider background-check legislation at a meeting Thursday. The Protecting Responsible Gun Sellers Act of 2013 calls for listing people who should not be allowed to buy a gun in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and would require that a background check be conducted for every gun sale.
Supporters of the legislation at the news conference Tuesday held photos of victims of the Jan. 8 and Sandy Hook shootings and signs with messages such as "we demand a vote on universal background checks" in front of Flake's office, 6840 N. Oracle Road.
Jan. 8 survivors Bill Badger and Pam Simon spoke at the event, from a podium with a bright pink posterboard taped to the front with black letters that spelled out a quote from former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, "We must act now!"
They recounted their experiences from the day when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire at Giffords' Congress on Your Corner event at a northwest-side Safeway. Six people were killed, and Giffords and a dozen more were wounded.
"Just a little over two years ago, I made a very fast trip down this road right behind us in an ambulance right behind an ambulance that carried Gabby Giffords, and so this is an issue that is very, very personal to me," Simon said. "We're here today because we want to call on Senator Flake to vote yes on Thursday to fix our broken background check system."
Badger choked up when sharing his experience on Jan. 8.
"When this was all over, there were 13 victims that were shot ... we vowed to get something done so this never happened again," Badger said.
NRA member Bill Wenrick attended the event with a sign in support of universal background checks.
"We have to figure out a way to keep guns away from people that intend to do harm to other people. It's a very, very difficult issue, but background checks in my opinion are a real important necessity to have a list of people kept nationally, required to be sent in by the federal, state, local governments, mental health institutions and things like that so that we have a list of people who shouldn't have guns," he said.
Representatives from other organizations - including the Tucson Committees Against Gun Violence, Arizonans for Gun Safety, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the National Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Organizing for Action and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America - were also part of the crowd.
More than 300 letters of support for the legislation were hand-delivered to Flake's office, from members of the organizations and other constituents.
"It really is a genuine grass-roots movement, and that's key for Senator Flake to see," said John Keepers a volunteer with the National Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. "They're nonpartisan. They don't identify their party. This is a single-issue coalition."
Flake opposes universal background checks but is open to broadening the checks by ensuring that mental health records are included in the background check system, Genevieve Rozansky, a spokeswoman for the senator, said by email. Flake was in Washington, D.C., during Tuesday's rally.
"He's working on legislation to strengthen the reporting process of mental health records so that those who shouldn't have access to guns are barred from purchasing them," Rozansky wrote.
Contact reporter Veronica Cruz at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 573-4224.