Getting shot seven years ago gave me courage to fight gun violence: Gabby Giffords
We should all be outraged that action on Capitol Hill has been at standstill. But we should draw inspiration from success stories playing out in statehouses.
My identity as a gun violence survivor is a paradox. On one hand, it's a reminder that life can change fast, in unimaginable ways — in my case, a gunman opened fire on me and my constituents at a community event seven years ago, killing six, injuring 12 others, leaving me partially paralyzed and reducing my ability to speak. On the other hand, tragedy has given me agency, courage and historic purpose in the movement to save lives from gun violence.
As a survivor, I’m often sought out to comfort those in distress. People send emails, write letters, leave messages on Facebook, but usually, they just stop me on the street. Many times, they have their own experiences with pain and trauma — often left unmentioned — but their survivorship is marked by a recognizable resilience.
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People also approach me to talk about our work to strengthen gun laws. These days, people are angry, and justifiably so. They ask whether leaders have forgotten about our responsibility to protect our children. They wonder why in a country as great as ours, it feels as if we’re no longer able to solve our biggest problems. They feel hopeless, having witnessed Congress fail to act after Newtown, after Charleston, after Las Vegas, after Sutherland Springs.
When my husband, Captain Mark Kelly, and I first started our gun safety organization in 2013, one month after 20 kindergartners and first-graders were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary and two years after the shooting in Tucson, we knew this wasn’t going to be an easy fight. We said then — as we’ve said all along — that addressing the gun violence crisis was going to be a marathon, not a sprint. Five years into this fight, looking back and reflecting on just how far we’ve come is what gives me hope, inspiration and the strength to persist.
I draw inspiration from the fact that today, public support to strengthen gun laws has soared to record highs. An overwhelming majority of voters — 95% — want Congress to pass legislation that requires background checks for all gun sales.
Voters aren’t just indicating their support for safer gun laws — they’re showing it in the voting booth. Just look at what happened to former New Hampshire senator Kelly Ayotte, who lost her re-election in 2016, in part to her vote against a background check bill. New Hampshire voters instead opted to elect a gun safety champion, Sen. Maggie Hassan.
This past November, voters in Virginia elected a governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and more than a dozen candidates to the House of Delegates who all ran on a platform of standing up to the gun lobby and taking action to build safer communities. Five years ago, campaigning on a gun safety platform in Virginia, in the NRA’s backyard, would have been considered politically risky. Today, it’s a winning issue.
Heading into 2018, candidates across the country recognize that gun safety is at the forefront of voters’ minds, and a record number are expected to make gun violence prevention a part of their platform. If you’re frustrated by the fact that your leaders have yet to do anything to address gun violence, don’t forget that you get the final word. After all, there’s only one remedy for a Congress that won’t take action to keep us safe: a Congress that can.
And while we should all be outraged that action on Capitol Hill has been at standstill, we should draw inspiration from success stories playing out in statehouses across the country. Gun violence prevention advocates have been working with local leaders to advance bills that protect families from gun violence and make communities safer places to live, work and play. Over the past five years, we’ve helped pass more than 210 safer gun laws in 45 states and the District of Columbia. These new laws are saving lives every day by keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, those at risk of suicide and other dangerous people.
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The change in tide we’re seeing politically and legislatively is also reflected in the way we’re talking about guns as a country. The conversation no longer centers on guns as a symbol of American values.
Mark and I are gun owners. When we launched our organization, we wanted to prove that it’s possible to stand up for the Second Amendment while also standing up for stronger gun laws that keep us safe. Today, law enforcement officers, military veterans and gun owners across the country have joined our movement — and they’re helping us lead a national conversation about how to make our communities safer places to live. How to walk the streets of your community without fearing the sound of gunfire. How to make sure first-graders who get on the bus to go to elementary school come home. How to feel safe going to a country music concert. How to pray at a house of worship in peace and not worry about being shot. As a nation, we’re waking up to the reality of gun violence, and every day more Americans are finding the courage speak up, join our movement, and call for change.
While the progress we’ve achieved gives me hope, I also recognize we need to move faster. Every day, almost 100 Americans — toddlers, kids and adults — die from a gunshot. In no other developed country do leaders allow so many citizens to die from this preventable epidemic. We must never accept this level of gun violence in America as normal. We must keep building momentum to save more lives in the years to come.
Throughout life, we rise and fall. But I was always taught to keep going. To have faith in better days to come. I’ve also gotten better because, in a moment of darkness and pain, I saw how we could build a better country. I saw a way to make changes so stories of bullets don’t flood the news. It’s an effort I’m proud and honored to be a part of. I refuse to ever give up, and I look forward to what lies ahead.
Gabrielle Giffords is a former Democratic U.S. representative from Arizona.