(NEW YORK) — After she was gravely wounded by gunfire two years ago in Tucson, Ariz., former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, imagined a life out of the public eye, where she would continue therapy surrounded by the friends, family and the Arizona desert she loves so much.
But after the slaughter of 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last month, Giffords and Kelly knew they couldn’t stay silent.
“Enough,” Giffords said.
The couple marked the second anniversary of the Tucson shooting by sitting down with ABC’s Diane Sawyer to discuss their recent visit to Newtown and their new initiative to curb gun violence, “Americans for Responsible Solutions.”
“After the shooting in Tucson, there was talk about addressing some of these issues, [and] again after [a movie theater massacre in] Aurora,” Colo., Kelly said. “I’m hopeful that this time is different, and I think it is. Twenty first-graders’ being murdered in their classrooms is a very personal thing for everybody.”
During their trip to Newtown, Giffords and Kelly met with families directly affected by the tragedy.
“[The] first couple that we spoke to, the dad took out his cellphone and showed us a picture of his daughter and I just about lost it, just by looking at the picture,” Kelly said. “It was just very tough and it brought back a lot of memories about what that was like for us some two years ago.”
“Strength,” Giffords said she told the families in Newtown.
“Gabby often told them, ‘You got to have strength. You got to fight for something,'” Kelly said.
The innocent faces of the children whose lives were abruptly taken reminded the couple, they said, of 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, the youngest victim to die in the Tucson shooting at a Giffords constituent event.
“I think we all need to try to do something about [gun violence],” Kelly said. “It’s obvious to everybody we have a problem. And problems can be solved.”
Giffords, 42, and Kelly, 48, are both gun owners and supporters of the 2nd Amendment, but Kelly had strong words for the National Rifle Association after the group suggested the only way to stop gun violence is to have a “good guy with a gun.”
There was a good guy with a gun, Kelly said, on Jan. 8, 2011, when Jared Loughner shot Giffords and 18 other people — six fatally — at her “Congress on Your Corner” event.
“[A man came out] of the store next door and nearly shot the man who took down Jared Loughner,” Kelly said. “The one who eventually wrestled [Loughner] to the ground was almost killed himself by a good guy with a gun, so I don’t really buy that argument.”
Instead, Giffords and Kelly are proposing “common sense” changes through “Americans for Responsible Solutions.”
The first change the couple hopes to enact is to require a comprehensive background check for the private sale of firearms.
“I bought a gun at Walmart recently and I went through a background check. It’s not a difficult thing to do,” Kelly said. “Why can’t we just do that and make it more difficult for criminals and the mentally ill to get guns?”
The debate over high-capacity magazines and assault weapons has been renewed after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
Kelly, a veteran of Desert Storm and a gun owner, said he doesn’t believe an extended magazine is necessary for the sport.
“An extended magazine is used to kill people,” he said, “lots of people.”
Loughner used a magazine that had 33 rounds in Tucson, while accused Aurora shooter James Holmes had a 100-round magazine. Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, used numerous 30-round magazines to load his Bushmaster AR-15.
Finally, Kelly hopes to address the issue of how the mentally ill are treated in the United States. Loughner, who was deemed incompetent to stand trial, pleaded guilty to 19 counts in August.
“Jared Loughner was clearly mentally ill,” Kelly said.
“Sad,” Giffords added.
Kelly said, “We have to learn how to identify these people and get them treatment. And we don’t do a very good job at that.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Ray Sanchez, CNN Newswire
Chuck Johnston, CNN Newswire