Jenkins: There's no surrender in Gabby Giffords

jim.jenkins@newsobserver.comJuly 10, 2013 

She has been so prominent, for seemingly such a long time, that it’s hard to believe that Gabby Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman nearly killed by a gunman near Tucson in January of 2011, is only 43 years old. She was 40 when a man shot her in the head in a parking lot. A promising political career was ended just as it was beginning. She is smart, well-spoken, attractive and married to an astronaut.

She was also a Democrat in a Republican state, a progressive on things like the environment, mental health and immigration reform. She might well have been a star.

But the “might have been” in the rest of her life was changed in an instant in that parking lot. Six people were killed and 12 others besides Giffords were wounded.

Giffords survived thanks to quick action on the scene by an aide, and because she proved to be quite a fighter. There were multiple surgeries and years of rehab, rehab that in fact is ongoing.

Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, recently stopped in Raleig on their way to some therapy for her in Asheville.

Their stop did not please some gun rights advocates. A point of contention which those advocates chose to make an issue of was that Giffords and her husband did not publicize their Raleigh visit and give the locations of where they were going to be.

So, one man with the gun rights group Grass Roots North Carolina offered 100 rounds of free ammunition to the first person to identify the firing range that Mark Kelly visited on Sunday morning. He said he thought his offer was a reasonable incentive, because, after all, ammunition is in short supply.

That “gesture” speaks for itself. It doesn’t need to even be dignified with any more attention. Mark Kelly is a military veteran and a former astronaut. His wife is a profile in courage.

Other groups that oppose further background checks and stronger gun laws, a push for which began after the Newtown, Conn., shootings of 20 first graders last December, have sometimes compared the Kellys, with a negative slant, of course, to Sarah and Jim Brady, who campaigned against gun violence after Jim Brady, who worked for President Reagan, suffered a head wound in the March 1981 assassination attempt on the president.

Only in the eyes of those who defy the logic of responsible gun regulation would Sarah and Jim Brady be used as the subjects of a negative comparison. The Bradys campaigned on gun regulation for many years. And now, in the eyes of some in the anti-regulation crowd, they’re to be the objects of scorn?

Mark Kelly and Gabby Giffords met with families who shared a loss due to gun violence, and they’re obviously hoping to carry on in the fight for at least more extensive background checks on gun buyers, so in that sense they’re trying to draw some attention. But they didn’t court media attention for themselves. They didn’t even let the media in on one of the meetings.

Giffords, for her part, spoke to a small group in halting terms. Speech and walking remain difficult, so long after her injuries. And though she is relatively young, she surely knows that her recovery is likely to go only so far. “Fight, fight, fight,” she said, shaking her left arm. (The right is paralyzed.)

The U.S. Congress, of course, failed to pass any additional gun regulation after Newtown, even something as mild as stronger background checks. Compromise had been given, votes had been won, members such as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia with top ratings from the National Rifle Association had worked hard. But in the end, the gun lobby, with millions and millions of dollars invested over the years in making friends in Washington, won. And the people lost. Too many members of Congress showed themselves to be political cowards, even in the face of public opinion polls showing overwhelming support for stronger gun laws.

Would that her former colleagues had just a small measure of the courage Gabby Giffords has shown in the last two years.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at

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