Gabby Giffords Q&A with Debbie Mucarsel-Powell
Apr 06, 2021
Debbie, I’m so excited to welcome you to our team. We have a lot in common: we’re both former congresswomen and both gun violence survivors. You lost your father to a gun homicide in Ecuador when you were just 24. When did you realize that you wanted to share your story of personal trauma to underscore how America can’t keep losing so many lives to gun violence?
I’ll never forget what my father’s body looked like after he was shot and killed. His death was traumatizing for me and my entire family, and it robbed us of so many moments with him: he wasn’t able to walk me down the aisle when I got married, or meet my kids when they were born. I don’t wish that tragedy on any other American.
As a member of Congress, gun safety was one of my top priorities. It was—and continues to be—tremendously important to me to do my part to enact commonsense solutions that can save lives and help end this epidemic. Joining an organization like Giffords that shares my passion for gun violence prevention and political values feels almost like a fulfillment of my life’s mission.
Policies like background checks are supported by the majority of Americans. After high-profile mass shootings like the ones in Atlanta and Boulder, calls for action echo from every corner of the country, yet many elected officials try to hide from this overwhelming demand from action. What do you want advocates and supporters to know about what this fight looks like from inside Congress?
I served in Congress for two years, which included the passage of universal background checks in 2019—a major piece of the first gun safety legislation that had passed in Congress in decades. I applaud the bill’s passage again in March. Now that the House has acted in a bipartisan manner, the Senate should follow suit. Advocates and supporters should know that although the gun lobby has a firm grip on many Republican senators, we must keep making our voices heard.
A representative democracy is supposed to be just that—representative. As a congresswoman, I cared tremendously about what my constituents thought, and I know you felt similarly. The reality is that sometimes it takes our laws a long time to catch up to public opinion. That doesn’t mean we should give up; far from it. We must keep pushing for change and demanding action, and let our elected officials know that we aren’t going anywhere.
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There’s a lot of talk about what will or won’t happen with Congress, but we also have a Gun Safety President in the White House who just announced a series of exciting executive actions. The president’s infrastructure legislation includes $5 billion in funding for lifesaving community violence intervention programs. This is the first White House that has ever made these programs a priority, which is such incredible progress. Can you share with readers how these programs work and why this funding is so important?
I’m thrilled that Biden’s infrastructure plan allocates $5 billion towards community violence intervention programs. Community violence intervention programs operate within neighborhoods most impacted by gun violence to provide support to victims and their families, mediate conflicts, and counsel individuals at highest risk of engaging in gun violence. These programs have been historically underfunded, despite their proven ability to transform lives and significantly reduce violence. This funding couldn’t be more necessary and I have no doubt that it will be used to save lives.
I represented a district in Florida where children under the age of 18 were the ones most affected by community violence. Community leaders repeatedly asked for investments in after-school programs for children as well as job training programs and mental health counseling for adults. Too often, the work that these programs do is put in jeopardy when they lose funding, and the organizations doing this work on the ground have to spend so much of their time advocating for funding, in addition to doing the actual work. This funding would make a tremendous difference to the communities most impacted by gun violence.
Armed hate is a problem in this country. From the mass shooting at the El Paso Walmart in 2019 to the attack on the Capitol in January to the recent tragedies in Atlanta, there are far too many recent examples of violent, hate-filled individuals easily accessing guns and causing terrible harm. How do you think we should address both the violent rhetoric and the dangerous loopholes in our gun laws that make this possible?
I know firsthand how much power the voices of elected officials and public figures have. Donald Trump rallying a mass of white supremacists and armed extremists to storm the US Capitol is a perfect example. America’s dangerous gun law loopholes make it far too easy for people fueled by violent and hateful ideologies to intimidate, harm, and murder others. We can address this threat by passing universal background checks, prohibiting open carry at protests, and disarming violent hate crime offenders. And we certainly can’t turn a blind eye to the violent rhetoric that has poisoned the public dialogue. If we don’t hold lawmakers accountable for their words, they will continue to inspire deadly violence.
This has been an incredibly difficult year for many of us. As more and more Americans and people around the world are vaccinated, there is a light at the end of the tunnel—but our nation has lost so many and so much. And even after the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us, we’ll still be reckoning with crises like systemic racism and gun violence. How do you stay positive and keep moving forward when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles?
Being grateful for the things I have helps get me through the tough moments. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to spend time with my family, grateful that my children are healthy, and grateful that my 81-year-old mother was finally vaccinated. Those are the things that keep me going.
Despite the crises and challenges we face as a nation, I remain convinced that there is more that unites us than divides us. I have witnessed so many acts of kindness and humanity that give me hope. I am also inspired by stories of resilience like yours, Gabby. I know your personal motto is “move ahead,” and your journey of recovery has embodied this. Your work at Giffords has made me even more positive that we will make progress on gun safety in the months and years ahead. I know our country and our world will look different after we’re on the other side of the pandemic, but I think this also leaves tremendous opportunity to build a stronger, better nation.
We’re in this together. To build a safer America—one where children and parents in every neighborhood can learn, play, work, and worship without fear of gun violence—we need you standing beside us in this fight.