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Mark Kelly: After Navy Yard shooting, gun laws will protect people and gun rights

In the wake of the Washington Navy Yard shooting, Gabby and I ask lawmakers to back broadly accepted ideas – such as expanding background checks – that address gun violence and still protect gun owners. The two aims are not mutually exclusive.

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Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus speaks with Dr. Janis M. Orlowski at Washington Hospital Center on Sept. 16 after visiting the people injured in the shooting at the Washington Navy Yard. Op-ed contributor Mark Kelly writes: 'Most Americans want consensus and civility....I hope [lawmakers] will walk in Gabby’s shoes...by supporting laws that protect communities and respect the right to bear arms.'

Jose Luis Magana/AP

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In Congress, my wife, Gabby Giffords, represented Tombstone, Arizona. It’s the town that’s too tough to die, a symbol of American grit and the Western ethos of gun ownership. In popular folklore, the OK Corral evokes images of armed cowboys and dead villains. Justice, some of our favorite tales suggest, was sought from the barrel of a gun.

But if current American attitudes about guns derive from our origins as a frontier nation, then we must look at how places like Tombstone policed firearms and prevented gun violence. This is especially true in the wake of the shooting at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, DC.

You might be surprised by what you find about the history of US gun laws. Far from the “live-by-the-gun, die-by-the-gun” way of life portrayed in movies, the Western tradition of gun ownership was tightly braided with similarly Western policies to prevent gun violence.

Take a look at the history books, and you’ll learn that Tombstone legislators of the late nineteenth century worked to improve public safety by enacting comparatively strict gun safety laws. In 1881, Tombstone made it illegal to carry weapons in public. Residents could keep arms at home; travelers passing through had to check their guns with the marshal.

Like the early citizens of Tombstone, Gabby and I are gun owners and believers in the Second Amendment. While we would never re-legislate the approach that Tombstone took, we know we can keep our families safe from gun violence while allowing us to exercise our constitutional rights. We appreciate guns for the protection they provide – and we know the dangers presented by letting guns get into the hands of dangerous people.

For years, Gabby and I watched the gun-violence prevention debate play out in acrid newspaper op-eds and outlandish TV campaign ads. We didn’t feel that our views as moderates and gun owners were represented.

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