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Giffords to launch in-person push for gun law compromise

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Mark Kelly leans his head on the shoulder of his wife and former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords as they attend a news conference asking Congress and the Senate to provide stricter gun control in the United States on March 6, 2013 in Tucson, Arizona.

For former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, gun violence is personal -- so she's going to begin her own in-person push for a new compromise to expand background checks for gun sales when she returns to Capitol Hill next week, NBC News has learned.

And the gun safety group she founded with husband, Mark Kelly, will begin making robocalls Thursday in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, looking to support the two senators who crafted the deal -- an attempt to demonstrate that the organization is committed to challenging the gun lobby's political infrastructure.

The National Rifle Association’s grassroots power is near-legendary, but in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., massacre, gun safety groups have tried to demonstrate that politicians should be worried about — and able to rely on help from — the other side, too.

"We are going to be there for the lawmakers who listen to the over 90 percent of Americans who support an expanded background check system. We recognize that up until now, the influence and power around this issue has been on the other side," said Pia Carusone, spokeswoman for Americans for Responsible Solutions. "Those days are over and we are going to be carefully watching the votes over the next few weeks."

The push from Giffords comes at a critical time for gun legislation in the Senate. The legislation cleared a critical hurdle Thursday as senators voted to open debate on a bill that would expand background checks, make gun trafficking a federal crime, and provide more funding for school safety.

But an important test comes with the vote on the background check compromise. Democratic leadership aides say they expect the tally on the background check amendment to reflect whether they'll win final passage of a gun bill.

Giffords, who was shot in the head as she met with constituents at a Tucson Safeway supermarket in January 2011, had already planned to be in Washington to dedicate a meeting room in the Capitol in honor of aide Gabe Zimmerman, who was killed in the shooting that wounded her.

She plans to ask for meetings with a number of Republicans — and Democrats — who the group believes might be open to supporting the background check compromise amendment to the gun legislation. Senators Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin announced their compromise proposal on Wednesday.

The new language still needs to be added to the bill, as its first amendment, and Democrats plan to try and vote to add it to the bill early next week.

Also next week, Kelly is set to give a speech at the University of Pennsylvania, where he'll praise Toomey's efforts.

In the meantime, the robocalls supportive of Toomey will target voters in suburban Philadelphia, a swing area where gun control is popular. In West Virginia, calls will go to white, male voters over 30, particularly those identified as veterans and gun owners.

"Hi, I'm Mark Kelly -- combat veteran, astronaut, and most importantly, husband to my brave wife Gabrielle Giffords. I'm calling to thank your senator, Joe Manchin, for working across party lines to sponsor critical legislation to protect the Second Amendment rights of West Virginians and to keep your families safe from gun violence," Kelly says in the West Virginia ad.

The calls urge recipients to contact Congress. Carusone said 185,000 robocalls are planned. The group will also email its grassroots supporters, which they say number 200,000.

Among the GOP senators who the Giffords group and other gun control advocates view as potential supporters: Jeff Flake of Arizona, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Dean Heller of Nevada, Susan Collins of Maine, and Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.

There are, however, a number of Democrats who might oppose the bill: Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Max Baucus of Montana. Pryor and Begich voted "no" on the motion to open debate on guns.


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