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  |   Jan. 30, 2013 at 12:05 PM
Giffords, NRA clash on gun restrictions

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords told a Senate panel Wednesday "the time is now" to act on gun violence because "too many children are dying."

But Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the National Rifle Association, told the Senate Judiciary Committee, "Law-abiding gun owners will not accept responsibility" for the massacres that plague the United States.

Instead, he said, schools need to be made more secure. "It's time to throw an immediate blanket of security around our children."

Giffords was the target of multiple death threats after voting for healthcare reform in the House. She was seriously wounded Jan. 8, 2011, at a public event outside a supermarket near Tucson when a gunman shot her in the head, killed six others including a federal judge and a child, and wounded 13. She resigned her congressional seat to concentrate on her recovery.

The gunman, now serving multiple life terms, did not appear to have political connections.

The judiciary committee is considering curbs on assault weapons, limiting magazine size and expanding background checks for gun sales.

In a halting voice that grew firm when she was making her main points, Giffords, D-Ariz., told the panel, "This is an important conversation for our children, for our communities, for Democrats and Republicans. Speaking is difficult. But I need to say something important.

"Too many children are dying," she said, reading from a short statement. "Too many children. We must do something. It will be hard but the time is now. You must act. Be bold, be courageous, Americans are counting on you."

Giffords' husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, told the panel, "Gabby's gift for speech is a distant memory, she struggles to walk and she is partially blind."

But he said, "We aren't here as victims, but as fellow Americans. ... We're both gun owners and we take that right and the responsibilities that come with it seriously. ... We are two reasonable Americans who have said enough is enough."

Kelly, a retired Navy captain, said the Tucson gunman emptied a 33-round magazine, and a 9-year-old girl was killed with the 13th round. The gunman was never reported to mental authorities and Arizona had data on more than 130,000 of the mentally ill never added into the background check system.

Kelly recommended several things: fixing background checks, closing the gun show loophole, removing the restrictions on federal research of gun violence and having "a conversation about the lethality of firearms we permit to be sold in this country."

LaPierre told the committee he was representing 4.5 million NRA members and the millions more who support gun rights.


French parliament begins same-sex debate

PARIS, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- France's justice minister described as an act of equality a measure legalizing gay marriage and allowing gay couples to adopt children.

Christiane Taubira made the comment as Parliament began debating a controversial bill to extend rights to same-sex couples, France 24 reported.

"We want to know: what will the marriage of homosexual couples take away from heterosexual couples?" Taubira asked.

Several lawmakers could be heard replying "nothing."

"We are proud of what we are doing," she went on to say.

Polls suggest that some two-thirds of voters in France support gay marriage but conservatives and the Catholic Church are against it.

The debate in Parliament that began Tuesday is expected to continue until Feb. 10. Voting on the measure is set for two days later.


Debris of missing F16 reportedly found

AVIANO, Italy, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Searchers in the Adriatic Sea recovered debris believed to be from a missing U.S. Air Force F-16 as the search for the pilot pressed ahead, U.S. officials said.

The fighter jet and its pilot, Capt. Lucas Gruenther, have been missing since Monday when Aviano Air Base in northern Italy lost contact with him.

The 31st Fighter Wing launched several of its F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft Wednesday in the search for the Capt. Lucas Gruenther, the Wings' chief of flight safety, air base officials said on base's website.

Gruenther was conducting an F-16 training sortie over the Adriatic Sea when contact was lost with his aircraft.

"While not specifically designed for reconnaissance like the other aircraft already involved in the search, our F-16s have targeting pods which can be used to augment the search," said Brig. Gen Scott J. Zobrist, 31st Fighter Wing commander.

The plane's last known contact was about 10 or 15 nautical miles off the coast of Cervia.

U.S. and Italian military officials were coordinating rescue efforts.

"We'll continue to operate day and night until we can rescue the pilot or determine what happened," said Maj. Erick Saks, chief of public affairs for the 31st Fighter Wing.

Aviano Air Base doesn't have recovery aircraft of its own, Saks said, so the initial effort was mostly Italian.

Several U.S. military aircraft joined the search Tuesday, Stars and Stripes reported.

Italian news service ANSA reported the pilot signaled a "problem" but did not specify what it was before contact was lost. Saks said the U.S. and Italian air forces had not released any information regarding possible "chatter."

ANSA also reported traces of jet fuel were found but Saks said he could neither confirm nor deny the report.


Charges to be dropped in Italy quake

L'AQUILA, Italy, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- An Italian prosecutor asked charges be dropped Wednesday against two officials for issuing faulty statements about an earthquake that later turned deadly.

A week after minimizing the possibility of a major quake, a massive tremor hit the area of L'Aquila, killing hundreds and leaving thousands homeless, Italy's ANSA news agency reported.

Prosecutor Fabio Picuti said he had requested charges be dismissed against former civil protection chief Guido Bertolaso and regional councilor Daniela Stati. The two had been under investigation for manslaughter and unintentional injury.

They had been part of a committee that evaluated the risk of an earthquake after a series of tremors had shaken the region for months. The committee issued a statement saying the risk of a quake was "unlikely" but did not rule out the possibility.

Six days later, on April 6, 2009, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit the area, killing 309 people and leaving 65,000 without homes.

In the resulting outcry, seven Italian scientists and officials were sentenced to six years in prison for manslaughter. The former president of the National Geophysics and Vulcanology Institute, Enzo Boschi, was among those jailed.

More than 5,000 scientists from around the world signed a letter supporting the assertions by Boschi and the other defendants that it is impossible to predict an earthquake.

Following the convictions, physicist Luciano Maiani resigned as president of the country's principal agency that assessed the risk of natural disasters.


Winter storm blasts through southeast U.S.

LOUISVILLE, Ky., Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Severe weather that blasted into the southeastern United States early Wednesday brought high winds, heavy rain and numerous tornado warnings, forecasters said.

Winds in excess of 60 mph ripped through Kentucky and Tennessee early Wednesday, Accuweather.com reported.

A wind gust of 105 mph blew through Mount Juliet, Tenn., about 5 a.m., ripping off the top floor of a three-story building, the National Weather Service said.

Tornado warnings were issued in at least 11 counties in Tennessee by the NWS, as well as for the area around Louisville, Ky., CNN reported.

In Memphis, Tenn., more than 13,000 customers were without power after high winds torn down power lines.

About 1,200 customers were without power in northeastern Indianapolis after heavy winds and rain snapped six 95-foot-tall utility poles, the Indianapolis Star reported.

The severe weather was framed by an area from New Orleans and Jacksonville, Fla., in the south to Pittsburgh and Baltimore to the north, The Weather Channel reported.

The temperature dropped from 67 F to 35 F in a 24-hour period in Kansas City, Mo., with heavy sleet and snow reported behind the front. Within a three-hour period, as much as 4 inches of rain fell in the area.

One to 3 inches of snow fell from Northern Texas to Nebraska, with severe thunderstorms expected to affect the Midwest throughout the night.

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