Marie Claire: What does being a "survivor" mean to you?
Gabrielle Giffords: It means doing whatever I can — everything I can! — to make sure that what happened to me and to the people whose loved ones were killed in Tucson and Aurora and Newtown, and so many other places doesn't happen again.
And it means I am determined — to continue my own recovery, and to not let my injury define me.
MC: How has being a gun violence survivor changed you the most — and how hasn't it changed you?
GG: Stronger, better, tougher! I have bad days and good days. My recovery is a long, hard haul. Speech therapy, physical therapy, even yoga. But I know that for all the things I miss — like riding my motorcycle — I am stronger now than I was before. And I'm determined to use my strength to make the world a better place. But lots of things are the same. I'm glad to be home in Tucson — eating at restaurants I love, listening to my favorite music, looking at the desert and the mountains I grew up looking at.
MC: What have you learned from meeting with other gun violence survivors?
GG: How different we are! Republicans, Democrats. Liberals and conservatives. Men, women. Old and young. Gun owners and people who've never held a gun. Gun violence touches every category of American. It's why every American should insist we do everything we can to reduce gun violence — like passing expanded background checks.
And I've seen how strong we are. I am inspired by the families from Newtown. I'm so proud of my friends Roxanne Green and Emily Nottingham in Tucson, whose children were killed in the shooting where I was injured — but who have found powerful voices in the effort to prevent other families from enduring that heartbreak.
MC: How disappointed were you in the failure of gun reform legislation in Congress? And are you optimistic that we'll see some progress soon?
GG: Disappointed? I was so mad. Those senators knew voting for background checks was the right policy to keep us safe — they just didn't have the courage to do it. But look at what happened: Senators who voted for it, like Senator Toomey, saw their approval ratings rise. Senators who voted against it, against what their constituents wanted, like Senator Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, saw their approval fall immediately. There is a political path forward here. And the hundreds of thousands of Americans who've joined Mark [Kelly, her husband] and me at Americans For Responsible Solutions are forging that path.
I am optimistic. I'm generally a pretty optimistic person — it's how I approach life. The American people know we can protect the Second Amendment and keep our families and communities safer, too. Our task is to make sure those Senators and House members listen to their constituents.
MC: What can Marie Claire readers do to help prevent gun violence?
GG: First, don't buy into the idea that we can only reduce gun violence by trampling on the 2nd amendment. It's just not true. Mark and I come from a proud tradition of gun ownership and nothing we're proposing will impact our rights to own and use our guns responsibly. If someone tells you that, you've got to tell them you think about it differently.
Second, be a good neighbor and a good citizen. It's true that many factors contribute to the epidemic of gun violence in this country. If you're a gun owner, be a responsible gun owner! Be aware of the signs of desperation or depression in the people around you and offer a helping hand if you can. No law can keep us all safe — no government can promise us that. A community has to be responsible itself for how it protects its children and what it teaches them.
Most importantly: use your voice and don't give up! Nobody said this would be easy. We won't achieve all our goals overnight. For every setback, recruit another friend to join their voice with yours. For every victory, give thanks — loudly and publicly — to the elected officials who show courage. Join us at Americans for Responsible Solutions to find out more: www.americansforresponsiblesolutions.org.