Gun owner Gabby Giffords wants to talk to Republicans about guns

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Each of the countless mass shootings that have plagued the United States has its own tragic story, even if they are connected together by guns.

The 2011 shooting of 18 people in a Safeway parking lot in Tucson, Arizona, in which six died, received more attention than most. This shooting merged gun violence and political violence because it was a targeted attack on the then representative. Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head but somehow survived.

A new documentary uses private family video to detail Giffords’ unexpected survival, his struggle to learn to speak again and his later work as an activist trying to convince gun owners to pass new safety laws firearms.

Watch “Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down” on CNN at 9 p.m. ET/PT Sunday, November 20.

I spoke to Giffords via email about her life now, her work as an activist, and her mission to talk about guns across party lines. That conversation is below.

WOLF: The film opens with video of you in the hospital in the days and weeks after filming. What made you decide to publicly share the video from this very personal and vulnerable time in your life?

GIFFORD: A few months ago I received a video from an 11 year old girl named Marina. She had had a stroke and now lives with aphasia. She talked about how she is fighting to get better too. She and her mom shared that they watch “Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down” when they need inspiration.

Stories like this are the reason I made this decision, as difficult as it is for me to revisit and relive those moments. Knowing that sharing the personal and sometimes painful details of what happened to me could help someone overcome a challenge in their life – whether it’s related to aphasia, gun violence or something else – that in worth it to me.

Of course, it also helped me to trust Betsy (West) and Julie (Cohen), the directors of the film. I loved “RBG” and knew these images would be in good hands with them. I was not deceived !

WOLF: It’s clear from the film that you work hard to formulate your thoughts and get help practicing before you speak in public. What are some of the challenges you face doing a Q&A like this, and how do you overcome them?

GIFFORD: I almost always wear a rubber bracelet (sometimes more than one, so I can give them to people) that says “aphasia: loss of words, no intelligence”.

I co-founded the Friends of Aphasia association with my speech therapist Fabi Hirsch because we wanted to both support people living with aphasia and help educate the general public about what aphasia is. We have a long way to go: there are currently approximately 2 million people with aphasia in the United States, but 85% of Americans have never heard the word.

Aphasia affects my communication, but not my cognition. Sometimes I have trouble finding the right word in a conversation. Sometimes I pull the wrong one.

At the very beginning of my recovery, as shown in the film, I could only say two words: “what” and “chicken”. I’ve come a long way since then, but learning a new speech takes months and months of practice. Doing written interviews is easier, but still involves hard work, collaboration, and iterations to get it right.

The easiest way for me to express myself in an improvisatory way is to sing – that’s why there are so many of them in the film!

WOLF: Your husband has, in many ways, taken your place in Arizona politics. He is seated in the US Senate, and we learn in the film that you were planning to run for the Senate just before you were shot. How do you now involve yourself in his work as a senator?

GIFFORD: I’m so proud of Mark and the way he represents Arizona. While I know he’s thrilled to have this election behind him, I absolutely loved being on the campaign trail in Arizona and meeting new people across the state.

Neither of us could have predicted how our lives would change on January 8, 2011. Six people were shot and killed that day, and the fact that I survived is something I never took for granted. acquired.

My congressional career may be over, as is Mark’s as an astronaut, but we’ve both found different ways to pursue our public service mission. He likes to say he learned this side of public service from me, and I have a lot of advice for him, especially when it comes time for a big speech, but he does it his own way. This has always been a very important part of our partnership.

WOLF: New Senator John Fetterman in Pennsylvania is suffering from a auditory processing disorder post stroke. As someone with aphasia, which hinders a person’s ability to communicate, what is your advice to Fetterman and Pennsylvanians as they watch him struggle with his words?

GIFFORD: I have so much respect for Senator-elect Fetterman. I know how hard it is to get back into the public eye. He not only persevered in his fight to represent Pennsylvanians in the Senate, he won a close race, which has huge stakes for our country.

I have great admiration for the courage and resilience he has shown. Pennsylvanians voted for John Fetterman because of his political positions, background and character. I look forward to working with the senator-elect to help make his state and our country safer from gun violence.

WOLF: You have dedicated your life to gun safety. But you are also a victim of political violence. What to do in the face of rising political violence?

GIFFORD: I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: words matter. Violent rhetoric, conspiracy theories, hate speech: all of this can translate into violence in the real world.

It is horrifying that running for office in this country means putting yourself and your loved ones at risk. It doesn’t have to be like that. Politicians and other public figures must unreservedly denounce acts of political violence.

Another part of the problem is our nation’s weak federal gun laws and nearly unlimited access to firearms. In 28 states, people convicted of injuring a victim in a violent hate crime can still buy guns. It is unacceptable. We need to pass laws like the Disarm Hate Act to better protect not only our elected officials, but all Americans, from hate-related violence.

WOLF: The other video from the movie that caught my eye was of you shooting a handgun. You tried to build support for gun safety among gun owners. Do you still own firearms? What kind of weapons do you own and why do you still own them?

GIFFORD: I still own guns. I grew up in what I like to call “the Wild Wild West” in Tucson. I took my horse Buckstretcher, named after the slogan of my family’s tire company, to college in California. Guns and sport shooting were part of the culture I grew up in, as it is for many Americans today.

One of the worst lies spread by the gun lobby is that people who believe in gun safety laws want to take guns away from everyone. The truth is, states with the strictest gun laws have the lowest rates of gun violence — no guns, just less gun violence. That’s why we created a coalition of gun owners for safety, because gun safety really matters. Safe storage can mean the difference between life and death in a gun-owning household.

When I was in Congress, it was extremely important to me to get to the other side of the aisle to pass legislation. When I founded Giffords, I didn’t want to spearhead an organization disconnected from the millions of Americans who own guns. I wanted to speak with them and represent them too, especially since I am one of them. I hope that’s what I did with Gun Owners for Safety.

WOLF: Why do you think the issue of gun violence hasn’t been more of a driver in these elections in what has been the most horrific year school shooting imaginable?

GIFFORD: Although inflation and the economy, two important topics, dominated the national narrative, gun violence and public safety were not far from the minds of voters. Exit polls ranked gun safety as a top issue for voters.

Americans rejected many of the most extreme Republican candidates, people who wanted to eliminate the right to choose altogether and who denied the results of the 2020 presidential election. This extremism applied to guns as well.

My organization ran ads against Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania, who once said “categorically no background checks,” and against Joe O’Dea in Colorado, who was endorsed by the Colorado state chapter of the NRA. These candidates lost to Senator-elect John Fetterman and Senator Michael Bennet, leaders who have demonstrated that they care about the safety of their constituents.

WOLF: The first new national gun safety law for decades was enacted this year. What is the next achievable step in your movement?

GIFFORD: Universal background checks remain a top priority for us and have broad bipartisan support. It won’t be easy, because of the influence the gun lobby still wields over many Republican members of Congress. But many people had given up hope of passing federal gun safety legislation, and then 15 Republican senators voted for the bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

I am so proud of everyone who fought so hard for this bill, because it is proof that progress is possible on this file. We also want to continue funding community-based violence responses and gun violence research – two areas that have been under-resourced for far too long and are critical to addressing this epidemic.


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