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WASHINGTON - The husband of wounded former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords says that while curbing gun violence is a complex problem, it is no excuse for inaction by lawmakers.

Former astronaut Mark Kelly told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that he and his wife, former Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, are gun owners who support the right to own guns. But he says Congress must strengthen laws to prevent criminals and the mentally ill from getting guns.

Kelly said he and his wife are "two reasonable Americans" who believe it is time for Congress to act.

Kelly sat at the opposite end of the witness table from Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association. LaPierre also was testifying.

Giffords, a 2011 shooting victim, testified briefly to the panel. She was severely wounded in a 2011 shooting spree that killed six people during a forum in Tucson. She told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Americans are counting on lawmakers to address the problem. Speaking haltingly,Giffords said: "It will be hard, but the time is now. Too many children are dying."

The former Arizona congresswoman was the first witness at Congress's initial hearing on gun violence since the Newton, Conn., elementary school massacre in December.

The Senate committee is taking the lead in writing legislation to address gun violence. Many want to re-impose an assault weapons ban and prohibition on large-capacity ammunition magazines. The National Rifle Association opposes these proposals.