Giffords appeals for gun control

WASHINGTON (AP) - The first congressional hearing on gun control since the Connecticut school shooting massacre has included a dramatic appeal for tougher gun laws from wounded former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Speaking haltingly from a prepared statement, Giffords told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, "The time is now. You must act. Be bold, be courageous."

Her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, spoke as well, describing the effect on his wife from the shooting in Tucson two years ago. He said her "gift for speech is a distant memory," and that she struggles to walk, and is partially blind.

The hearing also included testimony from the National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre, who rejected bans on some assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that have been advocated by President Barack Obama.

Under questioning, LaPierre also conceded that his organization no longer supports universal background checks for gun purchasers. He said criminals wouldn't subject themselves to a background check, and that potential violators aren't aggressively prosecuted.

Republicans pledged to listen carefully to today's testimony, but didn't go beyond that. Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa said the shootings in Arizona and Connecticut were terrible tragedies, but that they "should not be used to put forward every gun control measure that has been floating around for years." He said any serious discussion of the issue has to also focus on mental health.

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