US gun control advocates, led by shot former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, have launched a co-ordinated attack on the powerful gun rights lobby, as they seek to continue the national debate on firearms prompted by the Sandy Hook school massacre.
Ms Giffords, the former Congresswoman who was shot in the head in the mass shooting that killed six in Tucson, Arizona two years ago, has used the anniversary of that attack to launch a new gun control group, Americans for Responsible Solutions.
“Forget the boogeyman of big, bad government coming to dispossess you of your firearms. As a Western woman and a Persian Gulf War combat veteran who have exercised our 2nd Amendment rights, we don't want to take away your guns any more than we want to give up the two guns we have locked in a safe at home,” Giffords and her husband, the former astronaut Mark Kelly wrote in an op-ed in USA Today.
“What we do want is what the majority of NRA members and other Americans want: responsible changes in our laws to require responsible gun ownership and reduce gun violence,” they wrote.
Media attention had already drawn to the issue by a ranting appearance by a gun advocate and September 11 conspiracy theorist on CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight. The radio host Alex Jones was invited onto the program after he launched a petition to have Morgan deported for the TV host's attacks on America's gun culture.
He badgered Morgan throughout the interview, which he ended by mocking Morgan's English accent and railing against the drug Prozac, which he calls “suicide mass-murder pills”.
Giffords and Kelly hope their high profile will help counter the National Association's advantage in fundraising. The NRA has a budget of $300 million a year, while it is estimated the combined gun control groups operated on around $16 million.
The couple will appear in an interview with the ABC anchor Diane Sawyer tonight in the US. Their group will focus on restrictions on high-capacity magazines and improving background checks for people seeking to buy guns.
Even as news of the new group was breaking this morning, the equally high-profile retired general Stanley McChrystal was appearing on breakfast TV to argue that the sorts of weapons his soldiers carried into combat should not be available to civilians on American streets.
Since the shootings in Sandy Hook, there have been calls for a re-introduction of a ban on military-style semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15, the weapon used in the last three mass shootings in the United States.
“I spent a career carrying typically either an M16 or an M4 Carbine. An M4 Carbine fires a .223 calibre round which is 5.56 mm at about 3000 feet per second. When it hits a human body, the effects are devastating. It's designed for that,” General McChrystal said on MSNBC's Morning Joe program.
“That's what our soldiers ought to carry. I personally don't think there's any need for that kind of weaponry on the streets and particularly around the schools in America.
“We've got to take a serious look — I understand everyone's desire to have whatever they want — but we've got to protect our children, we've got to protect our police, we've got to protect our population,” General McChrystal said. “Serious action is necessary. Sometimes we talk about very limited actions on the edges and I just don't think that's enough.”
General McChrystal is a hero of the right, having led the American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, before resigned under a cloud after Rolling Stone magazine published a story that quoted him and his staff disparaging President Barack Obama.
Also yesterday, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition formed by the outspoken New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, launched a new TV advertisement featuring Roxanna Green, the mother of a nine-year-old girl who was murdered in the shooting in Tucson, demanding government action over the accessibility of the weapons.
It was also revealed yesterday that the Vice-President, Joe Biden, who after Sandy Hook was ordered by Mr Obama to come up for with a package of law reforms to be presented to congress this month.
Also today the Brady Coalition To Prevent Gun Violence declared a day of action, calling on its members to contact their Congressional representatives to demand they support moves to introduce new regulations.
Gun rights activists are mobilising in response to the new vigour in the gun control movement. A coalition of pro-gun groups have called on members to turn up to gun shows and gun shops on the Friday before Mr Obama's Inauguration to celebrate Gun Appreciation Day.
"On 01.19.13 go to your local gun store, gun range or gun show with your Constitution, American flags and your 'Hands Off My Guns' sign to send a loud and clear message to Congress and President Barack Obama," says the group's website.
A former NRA board member told Talking Points Memo that reports the Vice-President's task force was considering recommending new restrictions had the effect of “a Molotov cocktail” among gun rights activists and had galvanised gun owners.