DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords told Iowa Democrats gathered Sunday at a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley's Senate campaign that she continues to fight to make the world a better place.
Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, made the rare campaign appearance at Braley's annual "Bruce, Blues, and BBQ" fundraiser in Des Moines. Giffords, who was severely wounded in a January 2011 shooting, did not specifically mention her work as the public face of gun control advocacy, but told the crowd she was getting better.
"I'm still fighting to make the world a better place. And you can too. Be passionate, be courageous," Giffords said to the crowd of about 1,200 after Kelly spoke at length about the couple's campaign for gun control legislation.
Braley, 55, the only Democrat running for the seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, spoke largely about his support for the middle class. Braley said Giffords — a friend since both were elected to Congress in 2006 — has shown courage and resilience and he praised her for trying to bring people together around a tough issue.
"Their life's work is to bring people together to find real life solutions," Braley said.
Braley has supported some gun control legislation, such as restricting high-capacity magazines and toughening background checks for gun-buyers. Those positions put him in sharp contrast with Republicans seeking to oppose him in a general election next year.
Giffords was shot in the head in a January 2011 shooting outside a Tucson, Ariz., supermarket that left six others dead. The Democrat resigned from Congress a year later. She still has difficulty speaking and has partial paralysis in her right leg and arm.
Jared Lee Loughner pleaded guilty to the shooting and was sentenced in November to seven consecutive life sentences, plus 140 years.
Earlier this year, Giffords and Kelly, who describe themselves as gun owners and supporters of the right to own firearms, founded the gun violence prevention group Americans for Responsible Solutions. Over the summer, Giffords and Kelly toured seven states seeking support for federal legislation that would expand background checks on gun purchases.
Just how big a role gun laws will play in the 2014 Senate race in Iowa is unclear. A poll conducted for the Des Moines Register earlier this year suggested there was support in the state for some of the federal gun control legislation sought unsuccessfully by President Barack Obama. The poll, conducted by Selzer and Co. in February, showed that 88 percent of Iowa adults favored requiring background checks for all gun sales.
Still there has been little interest in enacting new gun laws at a state level, and several advocacy groups have worked in the state to oppose any changes. Jeff Burkett, president of the Iowa Firearms Coalition, said his organization will make sure their members know that Giffords was appearing for Braley.
"The fact that he's doing a fundraiser with Gabrielle Giffords underscores his positions," Burkett said. "I would argue that most of what they would call responsible gun laws are what we call outright gun control."
Many of the Democrats who came out for the Sunday event said they liked how Giffords and Braley approach gun laws.
"She is anti-gun, but not. She advocates gun safety," said Paul Ostring, 70, a retired electrician from Granger. "I have guns, but they're locked up."
While Braley is the lone Democrat in the Senate race, the list of GOP hopefuls includes state Sen. Joni Ernst, former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker, Sioux City talk show host Sam Clovis, attorney Paul Lunde, former car salesman Scott Schaben and David Young, a former aide to Sen. Chuck Grassley.
Many of the Republicans competing to run against Braley have made their pro-gun views known. Conservative radio personality Sam Clovis said that if elected, he would seek to block any new gun laws.
"I think Congressman Braley ought to be able to have a fundraiser with whomever he wishes and we need to honor Congresswoman Giffords and her husband for her service to this nation," Clovis said. But he noted that on gun control: "(Braley's) positions have been that the current gun laws we have in the country and the state of Iowa don't go far enough. I'm one that is on the other side of that."