Re-posted from vogue.com
On a bright winter morning more than five years ago, I was nearly murdered with a gun. At a meeting with my constituents in Tucson, Arizona, a troubled young man opened fire, injuring 12 others and killing six. I was shot in the head from three feet away. The bullet tore through the left side of my brain, an injury that is almost always fatal. Somehow, I survived.
Today, speaking is still hard for me. My eyesight isn’t very good, and despite hours and hours of physical therapy, my right arm and right leg remain mostly paralyzed. And I had to resign from a job I so loved: representing southern Arizona in Congress.
But I don’t spent a lot of time focusing on what I can no longer do. Instead, I’ve moved ahead and chased big goals. I’ve learned speeches and delivered them in front of crowds and cameras. I’ve gone skydiving. I’ve started relearning Spanish. For the first time in years, I’ve taken my French horn out of its case. And this past November, I rode 40 miles in Tucson’s annual charity bike ride, El Tour de Tucson.
Along with another opportunity at life, I was also given a second chance at service. At first, the path was unclear. My husband, Mark, a Navy combat veteran and retired NASA astronaut, and I asked each other: How can we make a difference? How can we still serve? How can we use our voice? The murder of 20 beautiful children in their classrooms at Sandy Hook School gave us our answer. It shocked us into action.
So today, together with Mark, I am using my voice to make our great country safer from the kind of gun violence that took the lives of those around me; changed many others’ lives, and mine, forever; and, just yesterday, took two more lives at UCLA. Gun violence is a full-blown national crisis—one that, on an average day, claims 91 American lives, including seven children and teens. Our gun murder rate is 25 times higher than other countries like ours. And women are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a gun here than in our peer countries.
As a country, that is not how we want to stand out. One reason for this gun violence crisis? We have bad laws that make it too easy for dangerous people, including felons, domestic abusers, and stalkers, to get their hands on guns. In most states, a dangerous person like a vicious domestic abuser with a restraining order has the option of buying a gun without a background check. At every turn, the gun lobby and the politicians it backs have fought to protect these loopholes.
As I knew when I took on this fight, inaction in Congress and in statehouses around our country is an evil. The status quo is an enemy. But today, more than five years after I was nearly dispatched to my death by my would-be assassin, we are making progress in the fight for safer communities. Outside of the halls of Congress and some statehouses, people aren’t falling back on the same tired excuses. They’re being bold and courageous. They’re doing what it takes to make us safer. They know we can’t prevent every gun tragedy, but that’s no excuse for failing to try to prevent some of them.
Americans continue to call for commonsense change. Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook, six states have closed the loopholes in their background check laws. With the support of our organization, Americans for Responsible Solutions, and others, leaders from both sides of the aisle in states around our country have taken important steps to protect domestic violence survivors and their families by keeping guns out of abusers’ hands. And in Hillary Clinton we have a candidate for the White House who has put standing up to the gun lobby and reducing gun violence in our communities at the center of her campaign.
Still, sometimes it is tempting to let our optimism wane. Because I know that this week, another 637 Americans will die from gun violence and another 1,450 will be injured. And Congress will do exactly what its members have done every week since the tragedy at Sandy Hook School: nothing at all. That acceptance of the shameful status quo is something we’ve grown to expect from a Congress in the gun lobby’s grip. And it’s why we need to work to create a different Congress and different state legislatures, where champions for laws that reduce gun violence are the majority. That starts at the ballot box. And it starts with us.
So today, on National Gun Violence Awareness Day, let’s wear orange—together. Let’s stand together and, through action, honor the lives of innocent Americans taken by gun violence. Let’s make sure that all of us—and all of our loved ones, our friends, our neighbors—demand that the people who are running to be our voice at every level of elected office lay out their plans for addressing our gun violence crisis. And let’s make where they stand on reducing gun violence a decisive factor in whether they get our vote or not.
If we do that together, then we can make sure every candidate around our great country knows that while today is National Gun Violence Awareness Day, this November will be the Gun Violence Awareness Election. And now it’s up to those candidates to decide whether they’ll stand on the side of the gun lobby, or the side of common sense, responsibility, and the American people.
Gabrielle Giffords, a Democratic representative from Arizona from 2007 to 2012, is a founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions, which focuses on gun violence.