Giffords, Kelly talk gun control in Youngstown

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The beliefs that setting goals and working hard and perseverance would get them where they wanted to go in life were put to the ultimate test for retired astronaut Mark Kelly and his wife, Gabrielle “Gabby Giffords, when the former member of the Arizona Legislature and U.S. House of Representatives survived an assassination attempt.

Kelly and Giffords, in a quirk of timing, were speakers Thursday at the Youngstown State University Skeggs Lecture Series at Stambaugh Auditorium, just one day after a gunman killed 17 people and wounded many more with a semi-automatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

In the 2011 shooting outside a supermarket where Giffords was meeting constituents, she was shot in the head and suffered severe brain damage, and six others died, including a 9-year-old girl.

Despite their experience, Kelly said they are not anti-guns. “I’m a gun owner and so is Gabby.”

“We know what will work to check gun violence. We need better background checks. Ninety-two percent of Americans favor that. In the last decade we’ve had 10 of the 20 worst mass shootings in our country’s history,” he said.

The roadblock is corporate lobbyists who make it untenable for politicians to take action, Kelly said while speaking to students in the Ward Beecher Planetarium before the Skeggs Lecture at Stambaugh.

“We can’t be stupid about it. We make it too easy for people with mental issues, terrorists and criminals to get weapons,” Kelly said.

Before she was shot, Giffords was an Arizona state legislator and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives until her resignation on Jan. 25, 2012.

She is a graduate of Cornell University and a Rhodes scholar, and worked as an associate for regional economic development for Price Waterhouse in New York City and as CEO of El Campo Tire Warehouses, a local automotive chain owned by her grandfather, and rode motorcycles.

The life of Kelly, a four-time astronaut who once dreamed he would be the first person to walk on Mars, radically changed when his wife was shot.

“When Gabby went to Congress, I though I had the most dangerous job. But it turned out hers was the most dangerous. Facing that was the biggest challenge of our lives,” he said.

First, when the family was flying from Texas to Arizona, the media reported that Gabby was dead; and later reported it had made a mistake, he said.

“My wife was not going to be taken out by Cable news,” he said, drawing a laugh from the audience.

He said he quickly learned what it meant to be a primary caregiver.

“I began to realize this was going to be a slow process. I am not a patient person,” he said ruefully.

Regarding his astronaut days, he said the biggest thrill was taking off and then realizing you are still alive, Kelly said.

The most amazing site was to see the earth, a big round, mostly blue ball.

Gabby has a sense of humor also.

She joked that she keeps her “real skull” in blue Tupperware in the freezer.

Speaking briefly at the end of their presentation, Giffords said it has been a long haul “but I am optimistic. I’m still trying to make the world more compassionate.”

“I couldn’t be more proud of my wife,” Kelly said.

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