By Mike Lillis - 01/30/13 05:50 PM EST
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Wednesday apologized to the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) for Congress's long silence on gun control.
Giffords was critically injured in January 2011 during a shooting rampage that led to her retirement from Congress last year. But Congress's first hearing on gun control since then did not come until Wednesday, when the Senate Judiciary Committee met to discuss the issue in direct response to last month's shooting massacre in Newtown, Conn.
"I say with some regret there should have been a hearing just like this right after your wife — one of our own, a member of Congress — was shot point blank in the face at a town near Tucson, Ariz.," Durbin said.
"I'm sorry it's taken two years for us to convene this hearing, that it took Newtown, Conn., to finally bring us to our senses and to open this national conversation."
Giffords was hosting a constituent-outreach event at a district grocery store two years ago when a 22-year-old gunman shot her in the head. Six bystanders were killed in the rampage, and 13 were injured, including Giffords. Jared Lee Loughner, who had a history of mental illness, pleaded guilty to the crime and was sentenced last November to life in prison.
Gun-control legislation has been a third rail on Capitol Hill for many years, particularly since the Republicans, who are nearly unanimous in their opposition to tougher gun laws, won control of the House.
Still, Democrats have controlled the Senate since 2007 and controlled the House between 2007-2011, but they too avoided the issue, angering gun control advocates on and off Capitol Hill.
Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last month explained that strategy by saying she didn't want to put vulnerable Democrats in a tough position with votes on a losing issue.
"Our members are very courageous; they'll walk the plank on any tough vote," Pelosi said. "But I don't want them to walk the plank on something that's not going to become the law. And that's what the situation was."