My life was changed forever on Jan. 8, 2011, in a grocery store parking lot when I got the text from my mom, “Gabby was shot.”
Gabby was my boss, Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. I served as her legislative director in Washington, D.C.
My head swirled. It felt like someone had punched me in the gut.
A frantic call confirmed it was true: Gabby had been hosting a constituent event at a Tucson grocery store when a gunman opened fire, shooting her in the head at point-blank range.
The moments after were a blur — a flurry of calls from friends and family around the world. When members of the office gathered hours later, I learned that my friend and colleague Gabe Zimmerman was dead.
Gabe and I started in Gabby’s office on the same day in January 2007. We share the same birthday. At just 30 years old, Gabe was the first congressional staffer to be killed in the line of duty.
Five other people were killed that day, including 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green. Thirteen others were wounded, including my colleagues Ron Barber and Pam Simon.
The tragic reality in this country is that too many have experienced the same grief, confusion and anger that I did. They know what it feels like to experience gun violence firsthand, to lose someone they love, to live in fear that it will happen again. That is unacceptable to me.
The last 18 months have brought cruel reminders that one public health crisis does not stop for another. Despite social distancing guidelines keeping businesses closed and most of us home, recent FBI data show killings jumped nearly 30% in 2020 with guns responsible for more than two out of every three deaths. So far, 2021 is shaping up to be worse.
This spike in gun violence isn’t only happening in faraway cities. It’s happening here in our own communities. In the first half of 2021, the number of people killed by guns in King County was up 48% and the number of people wounded was up 65% over the four-year average. Just last weekend, three people were killed and at least three others injured in a shooting outside of a bar in Des Moines.
On my first day as a state legislator, I was escorted into the capitol by the National Guard due to threats of violence by extremists. The excitement of my first day of my new job was overshadowed by the threat of gun violence almost exactly a decade after the Tucson tragedy.
This crisis affects all of us, but it is not inevitable. There is more we can and must do to keep us all safe from gun violence. We must tamp down on the growing threat of untraceable, DIY ghost guns by prohibiting the sale of parts that make it easy for anyone to assemble their own gun at home, without a background check. We must finally answer Washingtonians’ call to prohibit high-capacity magazines that make shootings, like the one that killed my friend Gabe, deadlier. Gun dealers who fail to follow the law and keep guns away from people barred from gun ownership should be held accountable under the law. Victims of gun violence and their loved ones should have the right to hold irresponsible gun dealers accountable in a court of law.
We also must ensure adequate funding for the newly-established Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention and grants for community-based organizations implementing evidence-based practices to reduce gun violence. We must treat gun violence like the public health emergency that it is.
Watching Gabby fight for her recovery over the last decade while also leading the fight against gun violence has taught me about resilience, hard work and grit. The past year has proved that we can do hard things. It’s more urgent than ever to push for common sense gun policies in Olympia. Together, let’s build a safer future.