By Peter Sloggatt
Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who survived a 2011 assassination attempt in which six people were killed, was guest speaker at a rally of gun control advocates in Dix Hills on Sunday. Giffords, who suffers motor impairment and difficulty speaking as a result of the shooting, walked into the room at Five Towns College to a standing ovation accompanied by her husband, Mark Kelly; Congressman Steve Israel (D-Huntington); and two women who had lost family members to gun violence.
The event was a campaign rally for Hillary Clinton, organized by Israel on short notice in advance of Tuesday’s Democratic primary vote. For any Democrats voting in the primary, for whom gun control is an issue, Israel wanted to point out that Clinton’s opponent, Bernie Sanders, has opposed gun control legislation.
“We have a Congress that has actually broken records for ‘moments of silence,’” but will not vote on common sense gun regulations, Israel said. And though Sanders is perceived as the “progressive” candidate, “this issue presents the most stunning difference between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders,” he said.
Gifford’s husband, Mark Kelly, noted that there are 30,000 deaths per year related to gun violence, adding that “last year was the first year that more children died from gun violence than from auto accidents.” Sanders, he said, voted against the Brady Bill and various amendments, five times as the senator from Vermont, he added before turning the microphone over to his wife.
“I’m here to tell you about Hillary Clinton… She will stand up to the gun lobby. Speaking is difficult for me, but come January, I want to say these two words: ‘Madame President,’” Giffords said to enthusiastic applause.
Giffords and Kelly have become active advocates for gun control since the congresswoman retired from the House. They were joined at Sunday’s event by Rita Kestenbaum and Marie Delus, both Long Islanders who have lost family members to gun violence. Kestenbaum’s daughter, Carol, was killed in 2007 by her college roommate’s ex-boyfriend, who also killed the roommate and himself in a campus shooting at Arizona State University. Delus, a Marine Lance Corporal, said her nephew was shot fatally as he was taking his girlfriend to lunch in Queens. Although she qualified as a Marine sharpshooter, and believes in the right of responsible gun owners to own firearms, “I do not keep a gun in my house. I am going to vote for the person who’s going to do what’s right,” she said, adding she feels background checks and controls on automatic weapons do not infringe on anyone’s Second Amendment rights.
A host of Democratic politicians attended the political rally, including Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone and Huntington councilmembers Mark Cuthbertson, Susan Berland and Tracey Edwards, and Suffolk legislators Steve Stern and William “Doc” Spencer. Former congressmen Gary Ackerman and George Hochbreuckner also attended.
Tuesday’s primary vote was in progress as of deadline Tuesday.