Gabby Giffords talks ‘long hard haul’ and ‘getting better’

Former Rep. Gabby Giffords, while rallying a group of roughly 20 gun violence survivors and gun control advocates before they head to the Hill to meet with lawmakers Tuesday, gave an upbeat view on the future of gun control bills in a Democratic controlled Congress as well as of her own health, years after she was shot in Tucson, Arizona.

Giffords traveled to Washington, on Tuesday, the eighth anniversary of the shooting that left six dead and almost killed her, to help introduce a bill requiring background checks on private transaction gun sales.

“Thank you for inviting me here today. It has been a long hard haul, but I am getting better,” Giffords said. “I am working hard at lots of things: speech therapy, physical therapy and yoga, too.”

She added: “My spirit is strong as ever and I am still fighting to make the world a better place and you can too. Get involved with your community, be a leader, set an example, be passionate, be courageous.”

Giffords has become one of the nation’s pre-eminent gun control advocates since the 2011 shooting. On Tuesday she will join House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Mike Thompson, a California Democrat, to unveil the background check bill.

Democrats introduced a similar bill in 2018, but the measure was not taken up by Republicans, who were then in control of the House.

Giffords and her team of aides and advisers working to pass background check and other gun legislation sounded optimistic about what a Democratic-led House could achieve.

“For so many years we have not had any action in Congress,” said Robin Lloyd, the director of government affairs at Giffords’ eponymous organization. “What we saw this past November … really signified a shift that voters are very clear with us and they want to see something happen.”

Lloyd said Tuesday’s bill will “provide a background check on every gun sale, no matter where it happens.”

“Every single firearm sale under this bill will have to have a background check,” Lloyd said. She later noted that there is an exemption for a family gift.

Peter Ambler, the executive director of Giffords’ group, echoed Lloyd, arguing the group believes gun control advocates will notch more victories this year because they now have “allies with gavels,” a nod to the fact Democrats will now be the chairs of House committees.

Giffords engaged throughout the conversation with survivors. When one woman mentioned that it doesn’t take much to background check someone looking to buy a gun, Giffords exclaimed, “Five minutes … five minutes.”

She closed the event by urging everyone to “fight, fight, fight.”

The group of gun violence survivors included Marc Orfanos, the father of Telemachus Orfanos who was killed in Thousand Oaks, California, in November; Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, whose daughter Jessica Ghawi was killed in Aurora, Colorado in 2012 and Ashley Baez, who was shot in the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida last February.

Although the mood in the room was upbeat, Lloyd and others acknowledged that the road in the Senate is uphill.

“At this moment the Senate bill will not be bipartisan,” she said.

The men and women at this event will meet with other lawmakers on Capitol Hill later Tuesday. Survivors of the shooting that left Giffords seriously wounded said they will meet with Arizona’s senators, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Martha McSally.

“We are looking at this as a new opportunity to engage with her and discuss how important this is to those of us in Arizona,” Pat Maisch, a survivor of the Tucson shooting, said in reference to McSally. “She is new, and we are not going to let up on her.”

Maisch wrestled a gun magazine out of the shooter’s hand in 2011.

Sandy Phillips said they are going to Capitol Hill to let lawmakers “know that times are changing, there are more and more survivors every day and that the American public is fed up with gun violence.”

“I think they realize now,” Phillips added, “that we aren’t going away.”