SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – A smiling Gabrielle Giffords toured rows of tables loaded with rifles and handguns Sunday in her first visit to a gun show since surviving a 2011 shooting, and pleaded afterward for people to come together to stop gun violence.
The former Arizona congresswoman visited the Saratoga Springs Arms Fair with her astronaut husband, Mark Kelly and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to highlight a voluntary agreement that closely monitors gun show sales in New York.
The trio mixed with a gun show crowd that was mostly welcoming – with a few hostile undertones – before calling for people to build on the cooperative effort.
"We must never stop fighting," Giffords said at a post-tour news conference, her fist in the air. "Fight! Fight! Fight! Be bold! Be courageous!"
Giffords, a face of the national gun control effort, slowly walked hand-in-hand with Kelly through the large room where Winchester rifles, muzzle-loaders, antique knives and other weapons were on display and "Don't Tread on Me" flags hung from poles.
They stopped at display tables, Kelly asked dealers questions about the weapons, and Giffords shook hands and smiled when people greeted her. "Good to see you looking good!" some said. Kelly bought a book on Colt revolvers, and said later he probably would have bought a gun if he had had more time. He said both he and his wife are gun owners.
The trio was greeted by light applause when introduced at the news conference, but some people booed from across the room. Many at the show said the couple made a good impression.
Dealer Joe Albano, who chatted with Kelly about his muzzle-loaders, said the couple was nice. But he also said he was against New York's recent gun control law, which is separate from the Schneiderman initiative.
"If she can help us, fine," Albano said. "We're doing everything right here. We're legal."
Under the agreements worked out by Schneiderman, all firearms are tagged at the entrances to gun shows. Operators must provide computer stations for sellers to do national background checks.
As they are taken away through a limited number of exits, guns are checked to make sure background checks were performed. No buyers can leave a show without documentation of a proper sale.
Schneiderman, who has worked with all 35 gun show operators in New York, showed the couple how the process worked.
"It's great to see government and licensed firearms dealers working together to solve a problem," Kelly said.
Giffords was shot in the head while meeting with constituents in Tucson. Six people died.
Though it was mostly smiles inside, about a dozen protesters rallied outside the gun show holding signs critical of New York's new law that expanded a ban on military-style weapons, among other things. The law was passed not long after the December school massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Kenneth Hall, who held a sign with a swastika that read in part "gun control made the Holocaust possible," said the New York background check was not needed.
"I believe this is a publicity stunt for Mark Kelly and Gabby Giffords," Hall said. "They say they're Second Amendment supporters. I don't believe they are."