“This is only for members of Congress,” said a Senate guard, blocking the way. Kelly started to explain, but the guard cut him off. “Only members of Congress allowed.” Kelly turned his wife’s wheelchair toward another hallway.
It was a curt symbol of what Giffords has lost in the two years since a gunman shot her in the head as she was meeting with constituents outside a Tucson supermarket on a bright Saturday morning. Days into her third term as a moderate Democratic congresswoman, her life as a politician was ended. Yet, almost as suddenly, the same kind of random and horrible violence has propelled her into a whole new world.
Since the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., Giffords has emerged as the country’s most famous victim advocate, the face of a renewed effort across the country to legislate gun control. It is impossible to be near Giffords and not be reminded of her injuries.
But she has lost neither her sharp political instinct nor her determination to deliver her message. When asked during her visit to Capitol Hill if she might be more powerful in her new role, her answer was swift and firm.
“Yes,” she said. “Impact.”
Yet the question is whether the former congresswoman can change the seemingly intractable opposition on Capitol Hill to new restrictions on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and loopholes in background checks. The sides in the debate have long been chosen, and few members of Congress will cross the powerful gun lobby to support the kinds of changes that Giffords advocates.
In short, in her new role, will Gabby Giffords have an impact?
If not, it won’t be for lack of trying. She and Kelly have embarked on a full-scale campaign to try to reduce gun violence. They have created an advocacy group, Americans for Responsible Solutions, raised a considerable chunk of money and brought their message to Washington, where Giffords was once regarded as a rising political star.
Their partnership works like this: Kelly does most of the talking. Giffords sits or stands beside him, animated and smiling, offering a word here and there. It is not what Giffords says in her new role as much as what she cannot say. Her message is mostly silent, a reminder that no one, even a member of Congress, is immune from the random violence that can transform — or end — a life.
“Gabby has particular insight into the issue, being a former member of Congress, a victim of gun violence, a gun owner and a strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” Kelly, a former astronaut and space shuttle commander, said. “I think folks want to hear what she has to say about this.”