Former U.S. representative Gabrielle Giffords stands with husband Mark Kelly, a NASA astronaut and shuttle commander, and mountain guide Vincent Lameyre near Mont-Blanc in Chamonix on July 23. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

Former Arizona representative Gabrielle Giffords often uses a wheelchair and is still recovering from wounds she suffered when a gunman shot her in the head in January 2011 while she met constituents outside a market in Tucson.

But on Monday, she made it high into the French Alps and posed for smiling pictures with her astronaut husband, Mark Kelly. In her first trip outside the United States since the shooting, she rode a cable car to a station with views of Mont Blanc and other peaks in France, Italy and Switzerland, according to a Reuters report.

“This is a great day for us,” Kelly said, before visiting a mountain research station with other astronauts to install a plaque commemorating the last U.S. space shuttle mission.

However great the day was, Giffords is continuing to pay a price for one man’s act – and not just in painstaking rehabilitation. She stepped down from her congressional seat because, as she said, she couldn’t represent her district “100 percent.” Ron Barber, an aide wounded in the Tucson attack that killed six, was elected in a June special election to finish her term.

Meanwhile, the United States continues a familiar ritual that follows a Tucson or Virginia Tech, adding the dateline Aurora, Colo., to the list of cities remembered for something we would rather forget. We learn the names and actions of heroes who put aside the human reflex of self-preservation to shield loved ones. We try to understand the motive for such a premeditated and heinous attack without giving too much attention to the gunman who craved it.

And we avoid serious debate on how disturbed individuals manage to legally compile arsenals of weapons and ammunition and carry out attacks in ordinary gathering places like the supermarket or the movie theater. As The Post’s E.J. Dionne said, there is a silence surrounding this issue like no other, a “gag rule” on any kid of dialogue that’s broken only by big-city mayors, such as New York’s Michael Bloomberg.

In Europe, where Giffords and Kelly are finding relief and fabulous vistas, there are stricter gun laws and lower murder rates. But one only has to recall, one year later, a far-right fanatic’s massacre of 77 in peaceful Norway to realize that no country is immune.

Celebrating the progress of Gabby Giffords with the love and support of her husband is a particular balm right now. Looking at the happy couple, holding each other up, surrounded by snow-covered peaks, is a needed lift and keeps us – for a moment – from coming back to earth.

Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at the New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3