Former astronaut Mark Kelly, spouse of former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ), sparked an online firestorm recently by publishing a photograph of himself buying an AR-15 at an Arizona gun store, saying he made the buy to show how easy it is to pass a background check.

"I just had a background check a few days ago when I went to my local gun store to buy a 45. As I was leaving, I noticed a used AR-15. Bought that too," he wrote. "Even to buy an assault weapon, the background check only takes a matter of minutes. I don't have possession yet but I'll be turning it over to the Tucson PD when I do. Scary to think of people buying guns like these without a background check at a gun show or the Internet. We really need to close the gun show and private seller loop hole."

Kelly bought the weapons the day before he and wife Gabby Giffords appeared at the Tucson supermarket where she and 18 others were shot in January 2011. The shooter, Jared Loughner, used a semi-automatic pistol with an extended magazine, and wasn't stopped until he was forced to reload. Kelly and Giffords have since become two of the nation's foremost advocates of gun control legislation, including an outright ban on most semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to approve a bill that would require universal background checks for all firearms sales, regardless of whether they're conducted through a private seller or a licensed dealer. It's not clear if the bill will have the 60 votes needed to clear the Senate at large.

”I applaud the members of the Senate Judiciary committee who voted to send this bill to the Senate floor," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in response to the Senate Judiciary Committee's vote on background checks. "Now we’ll work with their colleagues in the Senate to ensure passage of this common sense legislation that will help save lives and protect our communities. Americans are demanding action from Washington to prevent gun violence – and meaningful reform is within our reach."

The bill passed the Judiciary Committee by a vote of 10-8, split down partisan lines -- something the director of Americans United for Change called "truly remarkable."

"Let’s be clear: 91% of Americans support background checks – including 91% of independents, and 87% of Republicans," he said in an advisory. "So who are these Republicans listening to? It’s not the NRA’s membership who support background checks by an overwhelming majority. They’re not listening to the families of gun violence victims in their states imploring them to keep weapons out of dangerous hands so fewer families have to endure what they’ve gone through. The only people they seem to have these Republicans’ full and undivided attention are the big gun manufacturers that oppose any and all sensible gun violence prevention measures because they think it’ll hurt their bottom line."

Kelly's group, Americans for Responsible Solutions, did not respond to a request for comment about his purchase.


Photo: AFP.