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At scene of her shooting, Giffords urges Congress to expand background checks

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords returned Wednesday to the Arizona grocery store where she was shot to push Congress to expand background checks for gun purchases.

“Be bold. Be courageous. Please support background checks. Thank you very much,” said Giffords, speaking carefully in a brief appearance at the podium.

Giffords appeared at the Safeway in Tucson with her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, and with survivors and relatives of victims of the January 2011 shooting. Besides Giffords, six people were killed and 12 wounded.

The former congresswoman also placed a bouquet on a memorial at the supermarket.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote Thursday on a bill that would toughen penalties for people who buy guns illegally for others and to make gun trafficking a felony.

Giffords and Kelly’s group, Americans For Responsible Solutions, is airing TV ads in Arizona to persuade Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican, to back universal background checks.

A Flake spokeswoman said Wednesday that the senator opposes universal background checks. She said Flake supports making sure mental health records are better integrated into the background-check system “so that those who shouldn’t have access to guns are barred from purchasing them.”

Asked about universal background checks on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last month, Arizona’s other senator, Republican John McCain, said senators were working on a bill “that I think that most of us will be able to support.”

Jared Lee Loughner, 24, was sentenced in November to seven consecutive life sentences, plus 140 years, after pleading guilty in Giffords’ shooting. Giffords was at the Safeway for a meet-and-greet with constituents on Jan. 8, 2011.

It was not the first time Giffords had returned to the Tucson Safeway. She was there for the anniversary of her shooting.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.