There are more than 300 million guns in the US, or roughly one for every American. And the right to bear arms is something many Americans hold dear.
It’s just one reason the very passionate debate on Capitol Hill on Wednesday about how to stop gun violence in the United States got off to an emotional start.
Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a victim of a mass shooting herself two years ago, struggled to speak, as she appealed to lawmakers to enact further gun control in the United States.
"You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you," she told the audience in the packed US Senate hearing room.
Giffords, and her husband, retired US Astronaut Captain Mark Kelly, say they’re gun owners themselves, and don’t want to see the right to bear arms taken from Americans. Still, Kelly argued, there is an epidemic of gun violence in the US that must be stopped.
"We believe whether you call yourself pro-gun or anti-gun violence or both that you can work together to pass laws that save lives," said Kelly.
The Senate Judiciary hearing is the first to be held in Washington, since December’s mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that took the lives of 26 people, including 20 schoolchildren.
The shooting prompted President Obama to unveil a number of proposals to stop gun violence. Some are executive actions and others require Congressional approval. This is where the challenge comes in.
Gun owners in the US are already vehemently opposed to many of the proposals including limiting the size of ammunition magazines, re-instating an assault weapons ban that was already in place from 1994-2004 and also broader background checks for private guns sales, not just licensed dealers.
But, the issue of background checks is a sensitive one for many, including members of America’s largest gun lobby, the National Rifle Association.
Wayne LaPierre is head of America’s largest gun lobby. He’s been with the organization for 35 years and knows intimately America’s passion for firearms. He says law abiding citizens shouldn’t be treated with the assumption that they are criminals, which many feel is the implication of a background check.
"It's an unworkable universal federal nightmare bureaucracy being imposed under the federal government," he told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"I just don't think that law-abiding people want every gun sale in the country to be under the thumb of the federal government.” LaPierre points out that there are almost as many guns as there are citizens in the United States and a majority of responsible gun owners shouldn’t be blamed for the violent acts of the minority of criminals.
Still, the Senate hearing is the first in what is expected to be a long and arduous process as the gun control measures work their way through Congress. But, there’s no guarantee any will become law.
An American’s right to own a gun for self-defense is enshrined in the US Constitution in the 2nd Amendment and it’s one many conservative lawmakers on Capitol Hill tell me they are determined to protect.