Before his appearance tonight as part of the Maverick Speakers Series at the University of Texas at Arlington, astronaut and bestselling author Mark Kelly answered questions about gun control and meteors during a 15-minute session with reporters.
Kelly, the husband of Gabrielle Giffords, the former U.S. representative from Arizona who was badly injured in an assassination attempt in 2011, said he continues to call for universal background checks before firearms purchases. He said polls show that 92 percent of Americans and 74 percent of National Rifle Association members support the idea.
"We need to stand up" and make changes, he said. "I don't personally think that the status quo is working."
Kelly said he considers himself to be from Texas as much as from his childhood home in New Jersey because of all the years he lived in the state. As such, he said, he's not against gun ownership as long as loopholes that allow buyers to bypass background checks at gun shows and in private transactions are closed.
"I don't think you'll find a stronger supporter of the Second Amendment," said the retired Navy captain, who commanded the final flight of space shuttle Endeavour in May 2011. Later he added that he enjoyed going to gun shows while living in Texas.
Taking steps like requiring universal background checks and making it harder for people to buy assault-style rifles and magazines would go far toward reducing what Kelly called a homicide rate involving firearms that's 20 times higher than those of comparable countries.
"It's pretty simple," he said of universal checks. "It takes less than five minutes."
When it comes to school safety, he finds that idea more appealing than others. "I don't think arming every teacher, principal and janitor is the answer," he said.
He said that he and Giffords plan to continue to push Congress for quick changes to the law.
Kelly also answered questions about the meteor that exploded over Russia this week, saying that just before he met with reporters he had a phone conversation with friend and former astronaut Edward Lu, whose B612 Foundation is devoted to preventing asteroids from smashing into the earth.
"From what he told me, they got lucky," Kelly said. "If the angle had been a little different or if the time it exploded had been a little different, it could have turned out much worse."
Private entities like the foundation and SpaceX will play a larger role in space travel and exploration, Kelly said.
-Patrick M. Walker