Underscoring the Point:

As the Senate hearing on preventing gun violence unfolded Wednesday, a shooting spree occurred at an office complex in Phoenix. Mark Kelly, husband of former congresswoman and mass shooting survivor Gabrielle Giffords, broke the news of the shooting in his home state as he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “While we were having this hearing and we certainly don’t know the details, but in Phoenix, Ariz., there is another, what seems to be possibly a shooting with multiple victims. It does not seem like anybody has been killed but the initial reports are three people injured with multiple shots fired. There are 50 or so police cars on the scene,” he said, before proceeding to answer the question asked by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “I certainly agree with you, sir, that a universal background check that’s effective, that has the mental health records in it, that has the criminal records in it, will go a long way to saving people’s lives,” Kelly said. (Read more)

Flip-Flopper: Before NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre was against background checks, he was for them—something Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., caught on to pretty quickly during Wednesday’s hearing on gun safety. After LaPierre cited the Second Amendment as a reason the influential gun lobby opposed the push for universal background checks, Leahy pointed out that in the past the NRA has supported reasonable background checks and “no loopholes” for anyone. LaPierre’s response: “The system the way it is working now is a failure. This administration is not prosecuting the people they catch. Twenty-two states are not even putting the mental records of those adjudicated incompetent into the system. If they try to buy a gun, even if you catch them, and they try to walk away, you let them. They are criminals, homicidal maniacs. … We all know that, maniacs and the mentally insane do not abide by the law.” (Read more)

Senate Race: Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, announced Wednesday that he would name his former chief of staff William “Mo” Cowan to fill the Senate seat vacated by newly confirmed Secretary of State John Kerry until a special election is held. Cowan’s appointment means that, for the first time in U.S. history, there will be two black senators serving together. The other African-American senator, South Carolina Republican Tim Scott, was also appointed by a governor. (Read more)

Casting for Votes: Republican efforts in swing states to change how electoral votes are doled out—which have led to accusations that the party is trying to rig the 2016 election—are meeting stiff opposition. The back story: GOP-controlled legislatures in several states, including Virginia, Florida and Ohio, have proposed allocating Electoral College votes by congressional district, rather than the winner-take-all approach currently in effect. Because of Republican gerrymandering, that would be a coup for the GOP in the next presidential election. So far, however, the plans have gone nowhere. Officials in some states have defeated such proposals while those in others have indicated they’re strongly opposed to any electoral changes. In other words, Democrats don’t need to sound the alarm—at least not yet. (Read more)

Showing Decline: What’s going on over at Fox News? The conservative cable news channel’s ratings hit a 12-year low for the month of January in the critical 25-54 age demographic, according to the latest Nielsen data. To add insult to injury, Fox News’ liberal rival MSNBC experienced a ratings bump. The Week magazine attributes Fox News’ low ratings in part to President Obama’s inauguration, which it assumes—probably correctly—conservative viewers did not watch. Alas, given the fact that Fox News still boasts nine of the top 10 cable news programs, it’s doubtful that the ratings drop is signaling any sort of rapid descent for the right wing’s television mouthpiece. (Read more)

Video of the Day: Gabrielle Giffords, who was nearly killed two years ago in a deadly shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz., was among those who spoke during the Senate’s hearing on gun safety Wednesday. The former congresswoman gave an emotional and impassioned plea for the senators to act. “Violence is a big problem,” she said. “Too many children are dying. 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. Thank you.”

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