By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona is launching a group aimed at curbing gun violence, challenging the political clout of the well-funded gun lobby two years after she was shot in the head while meeting with constituents.
Giffords, herself a gun owner, is starting the effort called Americans for Responsible Solutions with her husband, former U.S. astronaut Mark Kelly.
"Enough," the former congresswoman told ABC television in an interview aired on Tuesday, calling for common-sense measures to reduce violence after a string of recent mass shootings.
Giffords was shot and severely wounded when gunman Jared Loughner opened fire outside a Tucson supermarket where she was meeting with constituents on January 8, 2011. Six people were killed and 13 wounded in that attack.
Since then, public debate over gun control laws has been fueled by a July rampage at the premiere of a Batman movie in Aurora, Colorado, that killed 12 people and wounded 58 others, and the massacre of 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December.
The new initiative will push for background checks for private gun sales and look at ways to better address mental illness, among other efforts, Kelly told ABC.
Giffords' group aims to take on the National Rifle Association, which in 2011 spent over 11 times more on lobbying than all gun control lobbyists combined.
The new group has set up a political action committee to raise funds "to balance the influence of the gun lobby," it said on its website (http://www.americansforresponsiblesolutions.org).
"Until now, the gun lobby's political contributions, advertising and lobbying have dwarfed spending from anti-gun violence groups. No longer," Giffords wrote in an opinion piece published on Tuesday in USA Today.
"Winning even the most common-sense reforms will require a fight ... Achieving reforms to reduce gun violence and prevent mass shootings will mean matching gun lobbyists in their reach and resources," she added.
It was not immediately clear how Giffords' initiative would work with other gun control groups, including Mayors Against Illegal Guns and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Brady Campaign President Dan Gross said its supporters "stood shoulder to shoulder" with Giffords, but a spokeswoman could not immediately say how the groups might collaborate.
U.S. President Barack Obama pledged after the Connecticut shooting to take swift action to reduce gun violence and has created a task force led by Vice President Joe Biden that is due to report later this month on possible measures.
The task force is examining legislation that would ban assault rifles, but is also looking at the role of violent movies and videogames in mass shootings and whether there is adequate access to mental health services.
Biden and his task force are scheduled to meet this week with victims of gun violence, gun safety groups, hunting groups and gun owners, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. The NRA's top lobbyist, James J. Baker, will also attend.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will propose a stricter assault weapons ban on Wednesday in his State of the State address, The New York Times reported, citing unnamed people briefed on the matter. New York is one of seven states that has some kind of ban on assault weapons, but Cuomo wants to tighten its loopholes, the Times said.
Giffords' new effort comes just days after she visited Newtown to meet with families of the victims of last month's Sandy Hook school massacre.
She also recently met with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who heads his own initiative, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, that is pushing for what he calls "reasonable" gun controls.
These include background checks for gun owners, and curbs on sales of powerful semi-automatic rifles and extended capacity magazines of the type used in the mass shootings in Newtown and Aurora.
"The reality is that most Americans think it's crazy to have assault weapons and high-capacity magazines," Bloomberg said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program.
As a member of Congress, Giffords was a supporter of gun ownership rights and said she owned a Glock 9-mm handgun. Her shift to vocal gun control advocate is reminiscent of two other American politicians who took on the powerful gun lobby after their lives were shattered by shootings.
The Brady law establishing a criminal background check for handgun sales is named after Jim Brady, a former press secretary for Republican President Ronald Reagan who was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt on Reagan that also wounded the president in 1981.
New York Democratic Representative Carolyn McCarthy, who has fought a lonely battle in Congress for gun control for 15 years, ran for Congress after her husband, Dennis, was killed and son Kevin seriously wounded when a gunman opened fire on Long Island Railroad train riders in 1993, killing six.
The recent mass shootings and the threat of tighter gun restrictions has spurred intense reaction on both sides.
Consumer demand for guns appears to have soared in recent weeks, according to FBI data.
Gun control supporters worry that other looming issues, such as the battle on Capitol Hill over the government debt ceiling, could hamper efforts in Congress.
Bloomberg's group launched its own new ad on Tuesday with the mother of Christina-Taylor Green, a child who was killed in the Arizona shooting in which Giffords was wounded.
"Twenty heartbroken families lost a child in the Sandy Hook school shooting. I know how much it hurts," Roxanna Green said in the ad.
"I have one question for our political leaders: when will you find the courage to stand up to the gun lobby?"
(Reporting by Susan Heavey, additional reporting by Greg McCune in Chicago, Roberta Rampton and Steve Holland in Washington; Tim Gaynor and Paul Ingram in Arizona; editing by Vicki Allen, Cynthia Johnston and Claudia Parsons; desking by Eric Beech)