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Penn hears call for more courage on gun laws

The husband of former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and a surviving victim of the Virginia Tech massacre discussed the need for smarter gun laws Wednesday.

LATELY, Mark Kelly has been looking into politicians' eyes, into their souls, and he's seen only one thing - fear.

The lawmakers, whom Kelly didn't identify, were afraid of how gun lobbyists would have reacted if the pols had backed a bill from Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to expand background checks on gun buyers.

The bill was rejected Wednesday by the U.S. Senate.

"I hope average people will remember how the vote went down today," Kelly, the retired astronaut and husband of former Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, told an audience at "Finding Common Ground: Moving Forward," a gun-violence forum hosted by the University of Pennsylvania's School of Social Policy and Practice.

Kelly, the son of two New Jersey cops, was quick to point out that he's not a gun-control zealot.

Both and he and his wife are ardent supporters of the Second Amendment. Kelly said he owns guns for hunting, and Giffords owns a Glock, "just like her would-be assassin."

Jared Lee Loughner was armed with a Glock when he shot and gravely wounded Giffords and killed six others in Arizona on Jan. 8, 2011.

In the wake of the horrifying Dec. 14 attack that left 26 dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Kelly and Giffords devoted themselves to supporting legislation that could prevent future mass tragedies.

The Toomey-Manchin bill would have expanded background checks for people who purchased guns at gun shows and on the Internet.

Kelly said he told lawmakers who were afraid to back the bill to imagine the fear that was felt by Sandy Hook students and teachers before they were shot to death.

His sentiments were echoed by Colin Goddard, a survivor of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre that killed 32 people.

Goddard, who was wounded four times by gunman Seung-Hui Cho, is featured in a documentary, "Living for 32," which shows how easy it is in some states to purchase high-powered weapons at gun shows with little or no identification.

Goddard said he dreams of an America where "people aren't shot in French class."