January is a time for new beginnings and new pledges. But it is also the time of year that I think most about the shooting that killed six of my constituents, injured 12 others, and put a bullet through my head.
Six years ago, on a bright Saturday morning, our community was forever altered by a young, disturbed man who should have never had access to a gun. Innocent lives were taken and countless others will never be the same.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, our city united as one Tucson. People of all different backgrounds came together to cry, to mourn, and to heal. We have bonded over the values we all share. And as a result, our city is stronger than ever.
Like our city, my life has also changed a lot since that horrible day. Speaking is still really difficult for me. My eyesight isn’t very good, and despite hours of grueling physical therapy, my right arm and right leg remain mostly paralyzed. But one thing that hasn’t changed is my desire to help and serve others.
Service has always been an important part of our community’s fabric. We Tucsonans help our neighbors in need, we care for those who are less fortunate, and we all give back to the community we love in our own unique way.
Those values inspired my friend, Judge John Roll, to pursue a law degree at the University of Arizona, join the legal system, and serve our state and country with great distinction for over 35 years.
Those values helped shape Dorothy Morris, who is affectionately remembered for her devotion to her family and concern for others.
Those values led Phyllis Schneck to spend hours knitting sweaters for students at nearby Cragin Elementary School because she worried the children would be cold in the winter.
Those values encouraged a courageous nine-year-old girl, Christina-Taylor Green, to step forward and run for student council at Mesa Verde Elementary School.
Those values called Dorwan Stoddard, a retired construction worker, to the Mountain Avenue Church of Christ, where he spent hours volunteering his time to keep the church looking its best.
And it was those values that motivated my friend and former staff member, Gabe Zimmerman, to pursue a career in public service, and courageously run towards me in the face of gunfire, as I lay bleeding on the ground.
Over the past six years, I have thought a lot about why I survived when these wonderful people, who brought so much goodness into the world, did not.
I still don’t have a good answer.
I often remind myself of something Abraham Lincoln used to say: “The Almighty has His own purposes.” While I still cannot make sense of this terrible tragedy, I can only hope that this horrible event was not merely random. That something positive can come from all of this so that no other family or community has to endure another senseless tragedy like ours.
And that is why I wake up each and every day grateful and determined to make the most of my second chance at life and service. Along with my husband Mark Kelly, I have worked to make sure our leaders finally do something about the 33,000 Americans who die every year from gun violence.
Like my recovery, progress has been painfully slow. But regardless of the pace, to me, each small step means more children will be able to enjoy holidays with their parents, and more parents will be able to enjoy seeing their children grow up.
Together, we’ve worked with leaders from both parties to help keep guns out of the hands of the dangerously mentally ill by strengthening the background check system to include more mental health records.
We’ve worked in state houses across the country to pass laws that protect women and their families from domestic abusers with guns.
Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, 42 states have passed over 160 new gun safety laws that help protect the rights of law-abiding gun owners, like Mark and me, and keep guns out of dangerous hands.
As I travel across the country to push for responsible laws and support bipartisan leaders who have advocated for commonsense action, I carry the memories of those who were taken in the Tucson shooting with me. And I pledge to do my best, each and every day, to honor their legacy by making our country safer.
Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords represented Southern Arizona in Congress from 2007 to 2012