Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona was the guest star at a news conference Thursday in which Gov. Tim Walz and several Minnesota leaders advocated for passage of two gun measures pending in the Senate.
"Our lives can change so quickly," Giffords said. "Mine did when I was shot."
Giffords, Walz and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who also attended the news conference, were in the same freshman class in Congress in 2007. But Giffords' career in elective office ended in 2012 when she resigned because of a brain injury suffered in an assassination attempt while meeting constituents in her district.
Walz said he and Ellison both "fell in love" with Giffords early on, noting that she was smart, kind and "read the bills." She was such a star, Walz said, that they expected she would one day become president. Instead, she's fighting a more personal battle.
The audience of gun safety advocates applauded enthusiastically when Giffords described her work as "fighting to make the country safer." She said she's had to relearn many things and finds joy in riding her bike, playing the French horn and going to the gym.
She closed by urging the friendly audience: "Join me, let's move ahead together."
Giffords has been meeting with Minnesota legislators and Walz for the past two days. At the news conference, she spoke for two minutes and then left. An aide said she wouldn't take questions because of her aphasia.
Bob Mokos, a Burnsville resident and state chair of the Giffords-affiliated Gun Owners for Safety, said 110 people in the United States die from gun violence every day. "No other country in the world lives like this and neither should we," he said.
The question at the State Capitol is whether the Senate can pass the measures endorsed by the Judiciary Committee last week. No Republicans have indicated they'll support the bills, so with a Democratic majority of 34-33 every DFL vote will be needed if they are to pass.
One bill would close a loophole in the law by expanding criminal background checks for pistols and semiautomatic military-style assault weapons sold at shows, online or transferred. The bill wouldn't apply to hunting rifles.
The red flag bill creates an avenue for family members or police to petition to have guns removed from those who are a danger to themselves or others.
Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park and Judiciary chair, was at the news conference with Giffords and Walz. When asked whether the Senate can pass the bills, Latz tried to sound optimistic, saying the bills have broad support among voters and are a "priority now." He said freshman DFL lawmakers "are learning what it's like to make tough decisions."
He ended with, "We're going to get there, so stick around."
Walz rebuked Republicans for not supporting the bills and addressed them directly, though they weren't in the room: "You are not getting off the hook in the next election if you vote no on this."
The governor said the bills should get more than 34 votes in the Senate and that Republicans will face "a day of reckoning" for their votes on a series of issues, including free meals for all at school, codifying access to abortion and making Minnesota a refuge state for transgender treatment.
"You voted no on food for children. You voted no on protecting women's rights to make their own choices. You voted to demonize our children for who they are and their identity. You vote no on this one and you're building up a pretty good record," he said.
In response, Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, said that rather than an "extreme all-or-nothing approach on guns, we can and should come together to protect lives with ideas that everyone supports, and that we know will work. This isn't the time to score political points and win elections, it's time to do something that will actually save lives."
At his news conference, Walz acknowledged the bills won't end all gun violence, but added: "If we stop one, that's what we're after."
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, speaking at the event on behalf of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, said the group gave its "strong support" to the bills. "It won't be the magic solution to end all gun violence, but it could make a difference," he said.