By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two years after a shooting that left her severely wounded, former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona is launching a group aimed at curbing gun violence and challenging the political clout of the well-funded gun lobby.
Giffords, herself a gun owner, is starting the effort called Americans for Responsible Solutions with her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, after a string of recent mass shootings.
"Enough," the former congresswoman told ABC in an interview aired on Tuesday, calling for common-sense measures to reduce violence.
Giffords was shot in the head while meeting constituents in Tucson two years ago. Six people were killed and 13 wounded in that attack when shooter Jared Loughner opened fire outside a supermarket.
Since then, public debate over control has been fueled by a July rampage at the midnight premiere of a Batman movie in Colorado that killed 12 people and wounded 58 others, and the massacre of 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December.
The new initiative will push for background checks for private gun sales and look at ways to better address mental illness, among other efforts, Kelly told ABC.
Gifford's group aims to take on the National Rifle Association, which in 2011 spent over 11 times more on lobbying than all gun control lobbyists combined.
The new group has set up a political action committee to raise funds "to balance the influence of the gun lobby," it said on its website, americansforresponsiblesolutions.org.
"Until now, the gun lobby's political contributions, advertising and lobbying have dwarfed spending from anti-gun violence groups. No longer," Giffords wrote in an opinion piece published Tuesday in USA Today.
"Winning even the most common-sense reforms will require a fight ... Achieving reforms to reduce gun violence and prevent mass shootings will mean matching gun lobbyists in their reach and resources," she added.
President Barack Obama has pledged, in the wake of the Connecticut shooting, to take swift action to reduce gun violence and has created a task force due to report later this month on possible measures.
The task force, led by Vice President Joe Biden, is reportedly weighing action beyond reinstating a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines to include universal background checks and a national gun sales database.
The NRA is due to meet members of the task force this week.
The announcement comes just days after Giffords visited Newtown, Connecticut, to meet with families of the victims of last month's Sandy Hook massacre.
Giffords also recently met with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who heads his own mayors' initiative that is also pushing for what he calls "reasonable" gun controls.
These include curbs on sales of powerful semi-automatic rifles and extended capacity magazines of the type used in mass shootings in Newtown and Aurora.
"The reality is that most Americans think it's crazy to have assault weapons and high capacity magazines," Bloomberg said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program.
As a member of Congress, Giffords was a supporter of gun ownership rights and said she owned a 9-millimeter Glock. Her shift to vocal gun control advocate is reminiscent of two other American politicians who took on the powerful gun lobby after their lives were shattered by shootings.
The "Brady" law establishing a criminal background check for handgun sales is named after Jim Brady, a former press secretary for Republican President Ronald Reagan who was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt on Reagan that wounded the president in 1981.
New York Democratic Representative Carolyn McCarthy, who has fought a lonely battle in Congress for gun control for 15 years, ran for Congress after her husband Dennis was killed and son Kevin seriously wounded when a gunman opened fire on the Long Island Rail Road in 1993, killing six.
The recent mass shootings and the threat of tighter gun restrictions has spurred intense reaction on both sides.
Consumer demand for guns appears to have soared in recent weeks, according to FBI data.
Gun control supporters worry that other looming issues such as the nation's debt crisis could hamper efforts in Congress.
Bloomberg's group launched its own new ad on Tuesday with the mother of Christina-Taylor Green, a child who was killed in the Arizona shooting in which Giffords was wounded.
"Twenty heartbroken families lost a child in the Sandy Hook school shooting. I know how much it hurts," Roxanna Green said in a voice over.
"I have one question for our political leaders. When will you find the courage to stand up to the gun lobby?"
(Reporting By Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Greg McCune in Chicago, Roberta Rampton and Steve Holland in Washington; Tim Gaynor and Paul Ingram in Arizona; Editing by Vicki Allen, Cynthia Johnston and Claudia Parsons)
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