Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and former astronaut Mark Kelly were in Alaska this week to talk sense about gun laws.
Neither Giffords, shot in the head during a Tucson attack in 2011, nor Kelly is interested in taking a single weapon from any law-abiding gun owner. They own guns.
But they do want to expand background checks before purchases are allowed. Current law requires such checks -- usually no more than the matter of a phone call -- for purchases from licensed firearms dealers. So the expanded checks that failed to reach a 60-vote threshold in the Senate in April are not breaking new ground.
What Giffords, Kelly and, according to polls, a majority of Alaskans and other Americans want to do is to apply those checks to gun shows and Internet sales.
The idea is to have another means to keep guns out of the hands of criminals or other dangerous people.
Is it a comprehensive solution? No. Kelly agrees that more needs to be done for mental health treatment, education about gun safety and enforcing current laws. And he knows that expanded background checks won't stop sales from the trunk of a car, and that in a country that counts its firearms in the hundreds of millions bad actors will be able to find one.
But expanded checks will stop some sales, will slow down individuals with bad intent and will send a message that Americans can both protect their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms and impose sensible safeguards on the trade in firearms.
Giffords and Kelly are pursuing the path of reason. Some of their foes have taken to fear-mongering, crying that any attempt at more gun laws is just the first step to registration and confiscation.
This is a curious underestimation of the American people, who can tell the difference between sensible regulation to save lives and any attempt to rescind our rights -- check out the debate over NSA surveillance. Americans simply wouldn't tolerate any effort to disarm the nation. Both Giffords and Kelly stand with most Americans who count as dear their fundamental right to defend themselves and also to own firearms for sport and subsistence.
But both also see the no-compromise stand of the National Rifle Association and its powerful reach in Washington as roadblocks to doing what's right.
They're determined to counter that power with their own. Kelly said this week that their organization, Americans for Responsible Solutions, has raised $11 million and aims to spend more than $20 million to counter NRA influence in the 2014 elections.
In other words, they're prepared to go toe-to-toe with what Kelly calls "the trade association for the firearms industry."
The sad part is they shouldn't have to fight this battle. Expanded background checks will help keep some people who shouldn't have guns from buying them -- or at least make it more difficult for them -- without taking anything away from honest gun owners.
If Giffords and Kelly accomplish nothing else with their seven-state tour for sensible gun laws, they'll have done two things.
First, they'll have a struck a blow for rational debate about gun laws.
Second, they'll have shown some in the U.S. House and Senate that you can stand up to the NRA and the rest of the gun lobby. Some good people -- including the majority of Americans -- have you covered.
We'd like to see Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich get the message.
BOTTOM LINE: Expanded background checks will help -- and not violate Americans' right to own firearms.