10 Years After Her Shooting, Gabby Giffords Still Has Hope

The former congresswoman and gun control advocate shares how she's chosen to move forward amid the pain and trauma she’s faced.

rep gabby giffords joins democrat lawmakers to discuss gun background checks legislation
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It was a bright, cold day in Tucson, Arizona on January 8, 2011. I needed a pair of gloves, which you don’t usually need in Tucson. Other than that, I don’t remember much about the day I was shot at point blank range. Eighteen members of my community who were there with me were killed or injured. Like too many other places in America, the shooting changed our community, and the trajectory of my life.

When I think about that tragic event 10 years ago today, I try not to dwell or focus on the suffering and hardship the victims and survivors endured. Instead, I remember what was so special about the people with me, and what they accomplished and dreamed of. I think of Judge John Roll. We differed politically from one another, but he was always a generous and dedicated public servant. I think about Christina-Taylor Green, who was only nine years old when she was killed. She’d come to visit me because she was interested in running for office. I think about the survivors, how we’ve all had to persevere—even when it was unimaginably hard.

I think about the first steps I took after being told I might never walk again, the first word I spoke after learning of the damage the bullet had done to my brain. I’d rather focus on the heroism of the individuals who acted quickly outside the Safeway supermarket that day to save even more lives, and the many inspirational, courageous men and women—many of them young people—whom I’ve met in the decade since.

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Giffords is sworn in by Speaker Nancy Pelosi as a member of the United States House of Representatives alongside her now husband Mark Kelly in January 2007.

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After the Senate’s failure to act in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, I decided to make fighting gun violence one of my life’s missions. I draw incredible energy from the next generation of activists I’ve met in this fight. It’s not easy to stand up when others tell you to be quiet—especially when you are wrestling with the pain and trauma that gun violence leaves in its wake.

But I kept my persistence, determination, and clarity of purpose by following the examples of heroes that came before me like the late Rep. John Lewis and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Now, I find strength in new voices like Emma Gonzalez, Malala Yousafzai, and Greta Thunberg who have never let people who are older and more powerful tell them that their voices have no value. Sometimes I see myself in their indomitable will to make a difference.

It’s not easy to stand up when others tell you to be quiet—especially when you are wrestling with the pain and trauma that gun violence leaves in its wake

My personal mantra is "move ahead." This doesn’t mean glossing over your own grief or turning a blind eye to the suffering of others. It means using this grief and suffering to build a deeper, more meaningful life. One of the reasons that I’ve connected so deeply with Joe Biden is that he is no stranger to turning tragedy into purpose. After losing his wife and infant daughter years ago, and then losing his son Beau more recently, Joe has found a way to keep going. He channels his deep empathy and compassion into public service. I know he’s going to continue to do the same as our president.

Together, he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have an enormous task at hand: healing a country devastated by a pandemic and bitterly divided by an outgoing president. I know they’re more than up to the task, and I have faith that this administration will be the most reflective of the American people—in terms of identity, experience, and mirroring our needs, hopes, and dreams—of any administration in American history.

But there’s no vaccine to prevent gun violence.

This new administration needs to treat gun violence with the urgency it deserves, and I have every reason to believe that it will. I will turn this hope into a call to action every opportunity I get. It’s why my organization, Giffords, created a blueprint on how our new administration can better stop the spread of gun violence. This includes the establishment of an interagency task force led by top White House officials, so our government finally takes a coordinated, comprehensive approach to the crisis by creating an office of violence intervention and investing in proven community-based solutions to gun violence. Community-based violence prevention programs, which have been proven to drastically reduce homicides in our nation’s underserved communities, don’t require the passage of new laws at all—just funding.

Still, we can’t let Congress off the hook. There are research-based solutions that we know save lives and enjoy broad public support, but will only move forward if legislators have the courage to act. Ten years ago, I made a promise to do just that.

giffords courage fellows meet with former rep gabrielle giffords d az at the newseum in washington dc

Giffords urges lawmakers to pass HR8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, in front of the U.S. Capitol in February 2019. The bill passed in the House, but was blocked by Mitch McConnell in the Senate.

(Image credit: Pete Marovich)

My life has never gone back to the way it was before I was shot, and I don’t think our country will go back to the way things were before COVID-19, either. That’s okay, as long as we keep moving forward by finding new strengths and focusing on new dreams and goals. What we’ve endured together can help us move onward towards a brighter future.


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Gabby Giffords

Gabrielle Giffords is a former congresswoman from Arizona and co-founder of Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence. She survived an assassination attempt in January 2011 that took the lives of six people.