PHILADELPHIA – Former Tucson Rep. Gabrielle Giffords walked onto the stage unassisted and smiling Tuesday and exhorted a crowd at a gun-control rally in a park here to have the “courage to do what’s right” to pass “responsible” gun reform.
Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt in 2011 that left her which left her severely injured, was speaking in advance of a featured speaking slot at Wednesday’s session of the Democratic National Convention. But Giffords urged the crowd gathered Tuesday to stop thinking about gun violence as a partisan issue, saying the country needs to “come together and be responsible—Democrats, Republicans, everyone,” if they want stricter regulations imposed on gun ownership.
“Stopping gun violence takes courage, the courage to do what’s right,” she said.
The event was organized by Americans for Responsible Solutions, the organization Giffords founded for “commonsense” gun regulations in the wake of the 2011 Tucson shooting that left her near death with a gunshot wound to the head. Six people were killed in that shooting and another 12 wounded.
But Sen. Chris Murphy, one of a number of notable Democratic speakers at the event, asked the audience to remember other mass shootings – Sandy Hook, Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora and, most recently, Orlando – as a painful reminder that Democratic Party needs to “build a political movement around anti-gun violence.”
Murphy pledged to make gun reform a “seminal part of the convention this week” at the convention on the heels of what he called a “summer of fear.”
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said the crowd should consider themselves “single issue voters until weapons of mass destruction are out of the hands of Americans.”
Civil rights activist and U.S. Rep. John Lewis joined Giffords on stage, calling her his “friend and sister” in congress. He promised he would stand by her in the continued fight for gun reform, in spite of past congressional failures.
“Gabby, we will fight until the victory is won,” he said, “we must never be satisfied until we get congress to act!”
But it was mothers of shooting victims who commanded most of the program, many with the group Mothers in Charge. Paula Henderson, whose son was shot to death over a parking space, views Giffords as an important ally in the fight for keeping guns out of the wrong hands.
“She’s against gun violence, we’re against gun violence—we have a common interest,” Henderson said.
Jeffrey Dempsey, a volunteer for Cease Fire PA, which helped organized the rally with Americans for Responsible Solutions, believes that the lack of meaningful gun reform can be overcome with diligent effort. People forget the tragedies too soon, he said.
“We need to keep this issue on the front burner. If we really want to see change, we need to keep talking about this, we need to hold our legislators accountable,” Dempsey said.
Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, are scheduled to take that message to the Democratic National Convention Wednesday.
Gifford, who still speaks haltingly from the injuries she received in the shooting, left the crowd with her trademark battle cry to “fight, fight, fight.”
Dempsey, like many others in attendance, sees Giffords as a valuable figurehead of the gun reform movement.
“I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a more courageous advocate than Gabrielle Giffords. We’ve watched her heal and we’ve watched her really just make a commitment that no one else has made with regards to this issue,” he said.