Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images Gabby Giffords
Gabrielle Giffords is speaking up to mark the anniversary of her return to Congress following the Tucson shooting that left her with a severe brain injury.
Giffords, 51, made a triumphant return to Congress on Aug. 2, 2011, after a gunman shot her and killed six people during a "Congress on Your Corner" event in Tucson, Arizona.
In a new interview with the Huffington Post, the former Democratic representative from Arizona spoke on the current state of politics in America, looking back on the decade that's passed since the shooting.
While Giffords' return to Congress in 2011 marked a rare bipartisan moment, she said that the division between the two parties has only grown in the years since.
"Unfortunately, I do think our politics have become even more divided than they were when I was in Congress ― yet I also don't think these divisions are inevitable," she told HuffPo. "The American people want elected leaders to do the governing they were elected to do, not politicians locked in an endless stalemate."
Giffords added, "We must continue to raise our voices and demand change on the issues that are most important to us. We must continue voting and ensuring that our democratic process remains accessible to all. And above all, we must never lose hope."
The former Congresswoman and Giffords founder told the outlet that the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection was frightening to watch, pointing to "divisive, inflammatory rhetoric" as a major cause of the country's political split.
"I was scared. Scared for my husband, [Sen. Mark Kelly], and all of his colleagues, and scared to see the country I love under attack by its own people. When I talk about how words matter, that applies in this context, too," she said. "Divisive, inflammatory rhetoric brings us further from the ideal that this nation aspires to. It puts people's lives at risk, and as we saw on January 6th, can jeopardize our democracy itself."
Since leaving Congress in 2012, Giffords has been a vocal presence in the fight against gun violence. In 2017, she demanded lawmakers "have some courage" and hold town halls to speak with their constituents. And in March, she spoke up after the Boulder massacre, issuing a statement saying, "It doesn't have to be this way."
While she's witnessed a growing divide in American politics, Giffords said she remains "hopeful" that Congress can make progress in gun legislation.
"The people are on our side. Policies like universal background checks, which has the support of 90% of Americans, actually unify Americans in an unprecedented fashion," she told HuffPo. "Yet too many politicians remain beholden to the gun lobby, choosing to do what's easy rather than what's right.
"At Giffords [her gun violence policy organization], we're doing our part to change that, but I want to urge anyone who cares about gun safety ― anyone who has ever worried that they'll be caught at a baseball game during an active shooter situation, or feared that their children won't make it back from school one day ― to make their voices heard on this issue," she continued. "Otherwise, the other side wins, and the violence continues."