Mark Kelly is defending his purchase of a military-style rifle that has the type of high-capacity magazine he's lobbying against - a purchase that conservative bloggers are calling hypocritical.
Kelly, who has formed a pro-gun-control group with his wife, former Tucson Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, went on a national news program Monday to explain why he bought the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle a week ago in Tucson.
Kelly told CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer that he bought it "to have firsthand knowledge about how easy it is or difficult it is" to purchase such a gun. "For a weapon that's so deadly and really designed for the military, especially with the high-capacity magazines, ... it's too easy. It really shouldn't be," he said.
Kelly has received widespread criticism from conservative commentators and some people who commented on his Facebook page about his purchase of a type of high-capacity magazine that he is speaking out against.
The magazine of the semiautomatic rifle, which can hold up to 30 rounds, is similar to the kind Kelly and Giffords' newly created political action committee is urging Congress to make tougher to buy.
Blitzer told Kelly that the conservative news site Breitbart News suggested that he went public about the AR-15 because the site was about to report his purchase. Kelly denied that, saying there had been a plan to announce the purchase on Facebook, which Kelly did on Friday.
The Arizona Daily Star had contacted Kelly's PAC on Friday asking about the AR-15 purchase.
Kelly also said on his Facebook page that he plans to give the gun to the Tucson Police Department.
He purchased the AR-15 and a Colt .45-caliber handgun, which he said he plans to keep, on March 5. That was the day before Kelly spoke in favor of gun control outside the northwest-side Safeway where six people were shot to death and 13 others, including Giffords, were injured on Jan. 8, 2011. Kelly was joined at last week's event by Giffords and other survivors and relatives of the victims of that mass shooting. The shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, a mentally ill man, was sentenced in November to seven consecutive life terms plus 140 years in federal prison.
Kelly and Giffords, who both own guns, recently founded Americans for Responsible Solutions, a political action committee to help influence the gun-control debate.
The two are advocates of universal background checks for gun buyers and want to limit the sale of high-capacity magazines.
The AR-15 itself is one of 157 military-style weapons that would be banned under a bill pending before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.
On Friday, once media learned about Kelly's purchase of the assault rifle and the .45, he posted on his Facebook page:
"I just had a background check a few days ago when I went to my local gun store to buy a 45. As I was leaving, I noticed a used AR-15. Bought that too. Even to buy an assault weapon, the background check only takes a matter of minutes. I don't have possession yet, but I'll be turning it over to the Tucson PD when I do. Scary to think of people buying guns like these without a background check at a gun show or the Internet. We really need to close the gun-show and private-seller loophole."
Kelly could not be reached by the Star for comment on Monday.
A Tucson police lieutenant and a spokeswoman could not say Monday if Kelly spoke to Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor or other personnel about his plans to turn over the AR-15.
Doug MacKinlay, owner of Diamondback Police Supply, 170 S. Kolb Road, told the Star that Kelly purchased the used AR-15 for more than $1,000.
"We were a little surprised," MacKinlay said about Kelly's purchase. He added that Kelly had gone to the store a couple of weeks ago, but he did not have "a government-issued photo ID that showed current residence address, date of birth and proof of Arizona residency." Kelly, a former astronaut who previously lived in Houston but has moved to Tucson with Giffords, came back to the store last week with the ID needed to make the buy. A spokeswoman for Kelly, Pia Carusone, said she went with him to the store.
MacKinlay said a background check on Kelly was done when he bought the handgun, and when he returns to pick up the AR-15 a federal background check will have to be done.
"By city ordinance we are required to immediately notify the city that we have acquired this gun and give the particulars. We are required to hold it for a minimum of 20 days. City police check to make sure the gun wasn't stolen or used in any criminal activity," MacKinlay said.
MacKinlay said Kelly did not say what he was going to do with either gun.
MacKinlay said the AR-15 that Kelly purchased was bought by the store from another customer.
The AR-15 "can be used for local, state and national competitions," said MacKinlay. He also said it could be used for "hunting, shooting and personal defense."
MacKinlay said he was curious why Kelly would buy such a gun at a federally licensed gun store when his main focus lately has been to close the "gun-show loophole," which allows private gun sales without a background check.
"If that was his intent, why didn't he go to a gun show?" MacKinlay said.
Kelly told CNN's Blitzer that he also planned to purchase a gun at a gun show, and to sell a gun "so I know really the ins and outs of this issue." He said he plans to announce that on Facebook, as well.
Star reporter Tim Steller and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at email@example.com or at 573-4104.