She uttered just 71 words. But Gabrielle Giffords, in delivering her first extended public remarks since she was gunned down in Tucson two years ago, created perhaps the most emotional moment in the fraught debate over the nation’s gun laws.

Giffords spoke slowly, but with purpose, each word chosen carefully. She acknowledged in her statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee that it was hard for her to speak, but that there was something she needed to say.

“This is an important conversation for our children, for our communities, for Democrats and Republicans,” Giffords said. “Speaking is difficult, but I need to say something important. Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying -- too many children. We must do something.”

At that, she looked up at the senators seated at the dais.

“It will be hard, but the time is now,” she said. “You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you. Thank you.”

Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, was accompanied by her astronaut husband, Mark Kelly, who was scheduled to testify and answer questions later in the hearing on gun violence.

About 10 a.m., Giffords and Kelly walked in from the senators’ entrance to the hearing room accompanied by the committee chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and its top-ranking Republican, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa). Giffords greeted several Democratic senators, including Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Chris Coons (Del.), before taking her seat at the witness table.