Giffords and Astronaut Husband Land at Sherrill’s Side in CD11

WOODLAND PARK – One of the main issues fueling Democratic optimism and energy this election cycle is support for stronger gun laws. Six months ago, we saw thousands of people across the state marching for more gun regulation.

Gabby Giffords and her husband, former astronaut and New Jersey native Mark Kelly, first appeared on behalf of CD-11 Democratic congressional candidate Mikie Sherrill at West Orange High School in May.

On Friday, Giffords, a former Arizona congresswoman seriously wounded in a mass shooting in 2011, and Kelly were back in the 11th District – this time to give Sherrill an official endorsement.

“Please, join your voice with mine,” Giffords told about 100 supporters in the borough’s American Legion hall.

The goals of the contemporary gun control movement have not changed. They include better background checks, a nationwide ban on semi-automatic weapons  and prohibiting those on the “no-fly list” from obtaining a firearm.

Besides advocating for new regulations, the organization, which is called simply, Giffords, also seeks to stop measures that would increase gun proliferation. First and foremost have been proposals in Congress for concealed carry reciprocity. This would compel states to honor each other’s concealed carry permits. So, someone who has the right to carry a gun in, say, Texas, would automatically have that right in New Jersey.

A gratified Kelly said that opposition to that idea has grown in Congress among both Republicans and Democrats.

The debate over this issue also exemplifies the problem. New Jersey guns laws are very strict. So-called assault weapons are banned and it is very difficult for an average person in New Jersey to get the right to legally carry a gun.

But Sherrill, who drew on her experience working in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said New Jersey laws are often undermined by those in other states. She said many illegal guns in New Jersey are actually purchased elsewhere, stressing the need for federal legislation.

The endorsement of Sherrill by the Giffords group was not unexpected. However, the organization’s moves have not been without intrigue.

It previously endorsed two New Jersey Republicans, Chris Smith in District 4 and Leonard Lance in District 7. The Lance endorsement received the most notice because he is in a competitive race.

Kelly said the group backs those who support meaningful gun laws regardless of party. On balance, however, the group supports many more Democrats than Republicans. Kelly called Democrats the “sensible party” when it comes to guns.

The Giffords group is touring the country to personally back seven House candidates and New Jersey’s 11th District was the first stop. In its literature, Giffords says  public sentiment on guns is changing and that the issue may tip many battleground districts in the Democrats’ favor. For example, it said that support for the NRA in 38 key House districts is “spiraling downward.”

During the program, Kelly took a swipe at the district’s current congressman, Rodney P. Frelinghuysen, when he said of Sherrill, “She’s been such a great candidate, she scared away her opponent.”

It’s almost hard to remember now, but when Sherrill launched her candidacy the focus was on Frelinghuysen, who has represented the district since 1995. Frelinghuysen said he would not seek reelection in late January and has been very much an invisible man (at least publicly) ever since.

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