ST PAUL, Minn. — Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords Thursday urged Minnesota Democrats to keep fighting for gun reform legislation moving its way through the State Capitol, the same way she has fought to recover from a devastating gunshot wound.
Giffords headlined an event aimed at drawing attention to DFL efforts to pass universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders, also known as the red flags law.
"Our lives can change so quickly. Mine did when I was shot, but I never gave up hope," Giffords told reporters.
She took the tragedy that nearly claimed her life and turned it into a movement, now known as Giffords, a nonprofit that works to reduce gun violence and to close loopholes that allows dangerous people to get firearms.
"I chose to make a new start, to move ahead, to not look back. I’m relearning so many things – how to walk, how to talk -- and I’m fighting to make the country safer."
She found herself surrounded by friends at the event. Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison were both members of the same freshman class in Congress with Giffords in 2007. Ellison recalled that a lot of those who served with Giffords predicted she'd someday be in the White House.
The rising star was holding a Congress in Your Corner event at a Safeway in Tucson in 2011 when a gunman shot her in the head at point-blank range, along with 17 others. Six of them died, including a girl who had looked forward to meeting her member of congress.
Giffords has fought back from her severe brain injury, but still suffers from aphasia. It makes it difficult for her to speak off the cuff and engage in question and answer sessions, so she memorized her speeches in advance and delivers them with passion.
"Setbacks can be so hard, but I tell myself, move ahead. I learned when people care for each other, and work together, progress is possible," Giffords remarked.
"The world is possible. But change doesn’t happen overnight. And we can’t do it alone. Join me!"
The universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders bills have passed the DFL-controlled House in the past but couldn't get hearings in the GOP-controlled Senate. This year, for the first time since 2014, Democrats have control of the Senate. But it's only a one-seat advantage.
"Things are different this year in Minnesota, so we are going to move legislation to make our children safer," Walz told reporters.
He said the Giffords event was scheduled long before the mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville Monday that claimed the lives of three children and three staff members. He referenced them as the latest in a continuous succession of attacks.
"Every one of those children walked into that building with their constitutional rights. And they certainly had the rights to go home safely at the end of the day."
The Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus and other gun control opponents insist that the bills being considered wouldn't have prevented the types of mass shootings that have plagued American schools, workplaces, malls and places of worship.
Opponents say most mass shootings, including the one in Nashville, were carried out by people who bought their guns legally and passed background checks. They say the proposed bills will unnecessarily burden law-abiding gun owners while doing nothing to stem the tide of gun violence.
All 33 Republicans are expected to vote against the gun reform bills, so the fate of the bills appears to hinge on keeping all 34 Democrats on board. When asked about whether Democrats will all vote for the bill, Walz launched into a pointed attack on Republicans.
He said they were the ones who should think twice about voting against a bill that has popular support in polling.
"You are not getting off the hook at the next election if you vote no on this. You are not getting off the hook without us coming out there and making the case that 92% of people – and even in the most conservative districts, it’s over 60% of the people – that know this," Walz exclaimed.
"You are not going to get to frame this that this is taking your guns, because I’m going to frame it as you are not sticking up for your children. That you’re not doing things. For goodness sakes, Republicans in Florida passed this. Quit it! Quit it! This is not a 34 vote type of situation! You are the ones that need to be asking why you’re not going to vote for this!"
The press corps also heard from Bob Mokros, a military veteran and gun owner who founded Minnesota Gun Owners For Safety. His sister Diane, a Chicago hospital nurse, was shot to death years ago.
"There are 110 people that are killed daily by guns – that is four Sandy Hooks every single day individually," Mokros said.
"No other advanced country in the world lives like this, and neither should we."
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