Both sides of the gun control debate were armed for battle on Capitol Hill Wednesday as the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on what the nation should do to end gun violence.
As an unscheduled visitor, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had the shortest testimony but the biggest emotional impact, calling for tighter gun laws.
"We must do something. It will be hard, but the time is now," Giffords said.
Giffords was seriously wounded in January 2011 in a mass shooting in Arizona. She and her husband Mark Kelly were two of several witnesses at the hearing advocating stricter controls on the sale and dispersion of guns.
Jim Johnson, who chairs the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, represented several police groups also advocating for more controls.
"On behalf of my colleagues across the nation, I am here today to tell you that we are long overdue in strengthening our nation's gun laws. Doing so must be a priority for Congress," he told the committee.
Wayne LaPierre, president of the National Rifle Association, led a contingent of gun control opponents who believe the proposed legislation threatens Americans' Second Amendment rights.
"Law-abiding gun owners will not accept blame for the acts of violent or deranged criminals. Nor do we believe the government should dictate what we can lawfully own and use to protect our families," LaPierre said.
Gayle Trotter, with the Independent Women's Forum, also said a ban on so-called assault rifles could put women at a disadvantage with male attackers.
"An assault weapon in the hands of a young women defending her babies in her home becomes a defense weapon," Trotter said.
"And the peace of mind a woman has as she's facing three, four, five violent attackers, intruding in her home with her children in the background, the peace of mind she has knowing that she has a scary looking gun gives her courage when she's fighting hardened violent criminals," she said.
A new poll shows a majority of Americans believe politicians are exploiting the Dec.14 Sandy Hook massacre for political gain. The hearing comes in response to the shooting in Newtown, Conn., that claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults.
According to the Reason-Rupe survey, more than half also believe that assault weapons should be legal. Forty-four percent say they should be banned.