Scripps alum and former congresswoman Gabby Giffords SC ’93 had a plan for what her life was going to look like before Jan. 8, 2011. She was going to run to be the next senator of Arizona and have children with her husband, current Arizona Senator Mark Kelly. Instead, on that day 12 years ago, a gunman shot her in the head, causing her to develop a speech disorder called aphasia and other long-lasting physical challenges. Rather than giving up, Giffords used this opportunity to help put an end to gun violence.
Giffords returned to Scripps on March 7 to showcase a documentary centered around her story, titled “Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down.” After the 6 p.m. screening, Giffords, along with the film’s producer Lisa Erspamer and co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit Giffords Peter Ambler, answered questions centered around the film, gun violence and Giffords’ journey.
During the panel, Giffords explained that both her own experience with gun violence and her reaction to Sandy Hook inspired her to form the nonprofit Giffords, which fights to end gun violence through legislative and judicial means.
“I was shot in my head while meeting with my constituents,” Giffords said. “I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t talk. I watched gun violence score too many lives. After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I said, ‘Enough is enough.’ We’re on a mission to end gun violence now.”
“I was shot in my head while meeting with my constituent. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t talk. I watched gun violence score too many lives. After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I said, ‘Enough is enough.’ We’re on a mission to end gun violence now.”
The film emphasized the meaningful nature of the work that the Giffords nonprofit, which has over 3 million supporters, has done. Specifically, the film talked about the support the nonprofit has provided in the fight for background checks for all gun purchases to become a national law and its work in fighting for the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to become law.
The film also centered around Giffords’ uplifting, strong spirit despite the challenges she faced in the aftermath of the shooting. Erspamer decided to produce the film, which has greatly impacted her personal life, because of the type of person that Giffords is.
“We learn from telling other people’s stories and we learn from watching other people’s stories,” Erspamer said at the panel. “Gabby is an incredibly courageous, resilient and powerful, powerful woman, and I think having the opportunity to tell her story has been, in so many ways, life-changing for me. It really has helped me. I get up every morning and I think about Gabby and I think, ‘just keep moving forward,’ and I complain a lot less now than I did.”
Giffords’ perseverance while dealing with such an injury was also inspiring to Ambler, a feat that he believes extends beyond her public service.
“I think something that amazes … me about was not necessarily when she’s up on a stage or when she’s in front of a large group of people or whether the Presidential Medal of Freedom is being hung around her neck,” Ambler said at the panel. “It’s all of the little things. It’s the thousands of hours that she puts into speech therapy just to be able to find the next word [and] the thousands of hours that she puts into physical therapy to be just a little bit stronger.”
According to Ambler, this strength didn’t just lead to a recovery that doctors called miraculous, it also is one of the primary reasons for the mission and success of the nonprofit Giffords.
“[I saw] somebody put so much effort into something that I take for granted, and I think that sort of constant, consistent commitment to incremental progress is the reason why we’re going to advocate for the country, ultimately,” Ambler said.
Giffords said that to get through the struggle, she had to keep fighting, which she recommends that other people try to do as well.
“For me, it has been really important to move ahead [and] to not look back. I hope others are inspired to keep moving forward no matter what,” Giffords said.
“For me, it has been really important to move ahead [and] to not look back. I hope others are inspired to keep moving forward no matter what.”
Amanda Macias Schreiber PO ’26, who attended both the screening and the panel, found this attitude and Giffords’ passion for ending gun violence to be motivating.
“I thought the film did a great job of humanizing the issue by sharing the story of one person and really getting into her heart and strength overcoming this enormous obstacle,” Schreiber said. “This screening did reinvigorate me to continue advocating, fighting and moving forward.”
Throughout her recovery, Giffords has developed new passions and hobbies, which helped her get through the rough patches.
“It can be so difficult,” Giffords said. “Losses hurt. Setbacks are hard, but I tell myself, ‘move ahead.’ I’m finding joy in small things: rid[ing] my bike, playing the French horn, going to the gym, laughing with friends. The small things add up.”
Most of all, she has made sure to never give up hope and always fight for what’s right with the people around her.
“I chose to make a new start, to move ahead [and] to not look back,” Giffords said. “I’m relearning so many things — how to walk, how to talk — and I’m fighting to make the country safer. I learned that when people care for each other and work together, progress is possible [and] a better world is possible, but change doesn’t happen overnight, and we can’t do it alone. Join me. Let’s move ahead together.”