TUCSON, Ariz.—On two of Arizona’s most provocative issues, gun rights and immigration, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., trod a middle ground that might have served her well in being elected three times in a classic swing district.
People looking for answers as to why she was the target of a shooting on Saturday that left her in critical condition and six others dead have questioned whether these two hot-button topics might have contributed to her being targeted. But while Giffords hewed close to the Democratic Party line on many of its priorities in the 111th Congress, such as health care reform, overhauling the way financial services are regulated, and climate-change legislation, her positions on firearms and border security were to the right of her party’s leadership.
A self-described “strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” she supported the Supreme Court’s striking down of Washington, D.C.’s handgun ban and voted to allow firearms in national parks, positions anathema to her leadership, as well as to groups like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Those positions did not curry much favor with gun-rights groups. The National Rifle Association supported her 2010 GOP opponent, Jesse Kelly, spending nearly $43,000 in independent expenditures to support his campaign.
Gun Owners of America rated her poorly last year as well, giving her a rating of 27 out of 100. Neither group, nor any other gun-rights organization, put much effort into ousting Giffords.
On immigration, she was a border-security hawk, urging the administration last year to deploy the National Guard to the border and stating on her website that it was time “for urgent action to secure the border in the interests of national security." This position likely played well in a district that borders Mexico and has two military bases, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson and Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista. Even so, her position there was tempered somewhat by her support for the Dream Act, which would allow a path to citizenship for children brought to the United States illegally. She also had described Arizona’s immigration-enforcement legislation, SB 1070, as divisive and unhelpful in solving such a complex problem.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that pushes for a drastic reduction in immigration levels, described Giffords on Monday as a “moderate” on immigration and “responsive to the needs of her constituents,” praising her for reaching “across the aisle in support of immigration enforcement such as mandatory employment verification.” Overall, the conservative group said she “serves the citizens of her district admirably.”
At the least, the two issues were neutralized by Giffords, making them unlikely flash points for political violence.
This article appears in the January 11, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.