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'Yes, it's tough': For Gabby Giffords, a wounded life has a new purpose

By Dana Bash, CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent
updated 6:57 AM EDT, Wed April 10, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Former Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot in the head two years ago
  • Today, with her husband, she crusades for tougher gun laws
  • She lost the use of her right arm and has limited vision

This week, CNN TV and CNN.com will take an in-depth look at "Guns Under Fire: A CNN Special Report on Background Checks." At 8 and 10 p.m. ET Wednesday, "AC360" will air Part II of Dana Bash's exclusive interview with former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head two years ago in Arizona. Watch CNN TV and follow online at CNN.com or via CNN's apps for iPhone, iPad and Android.

Tucson, Arizona (CNN) -- Gabby Giffords will never be the same after being shot through the head little more than two years ago.

Yet one thing hasn't changed, ironically, is her appreciation for guns.

For the former congresswoman who is now at the center of the debate over gun control and background checks, target practice is still a form of entertainment.

In the back yard of her mother Gloria's house, located deep in the Arizona desert, Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly, uses planting pots and water bottles as targets. Giffords watches from the patio above with her mother, cheering him on.

"Excellent!" exclaims Giffords. "Excellent!" repeats her mother.

And Kelly isn't shooting with just any kind of gun. It's a 9mm Glock, the same kind Jared Loughner used to shoot Giffords while she greeted constituents in front of an Arizona supermarket.

"In that case it had a magazine that held 33 rounds," said Kelly. "He shot 33 rounds. Every round hit somebody, we think."

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This gun belongs to Giffords. It was a gift from her husband several years ago, before she was shot.

"Well, Gabby used to like shooting a gun, too," Kelly said when asked how recreation for him can still be shooting a gun after his wife was shot though the head.

"Yes," Giffords adds.

"She didn't want to get rid of it," said Kelly.

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Nevertheless, allowing CNN's cameras to exclusively capture Kelly shooting a gun with Giffords looking on is meant to help advance their political cause: curbing gun violence.

They hope to show that Giffords and Kelly are legitimate gun owners and credible messengers for tightening gun restrictions.

The speed of background checks

Kelly also showed off a gun he recently bought -- videotaping the transaction -- for the sole purpose of demonstrating how easy it is to get a background check, and why he and Giffords want the checks expanded to private sales such as gun shows.

"When we timed it, it took 5 minutes and 36 seconds, not a lot of time. You could do the same thing at the gun show where people are currently not subject to background checks in most states," said Kelly.

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Giffords and Kelly formed their organization -- Americans for Responsible Solutions -- in January, the second anniversary of the shooting that left Giffords partially paralyzed and robbed the once-articulate politician of her gift of speech.

"Optimistic!" Giffords exclaimed.

One word. But a clear answer she gave to describe how she sees the odds for gun restrictions to pass.

"I am, too," said Kelly. "Especially when we're talking about universal background checks."

Sandy Hook

The Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in Connecticut last December spurred them to take a stand.

She paused. The brain damage from her own gunshot wound makes it difficult for her to find words, even "Sandy Hook."

"Sandy Brook," said Giffords several times, before finally getting the word right by repeating her husband.

"Sandy Hook," said Kelly.

"Hook," Giffords finally said.

"Sandy Hook Elementary. You know, it's something we just can't -- you know, 20 -- 20 first graders," Kelly said, as Giffords chimed in.

"First graders died ... awful."

Being politically realistic

Following recent mass shootings, the couple originally called for a ban on assault weapons and limits to high-capacity magazines.

This year, Giffords made a dramatic plea to senators, asking them to be "bold" and "courageous." But the couple admits there are limits on what is politically realistic.

"Background checks," said Giffords, when asked to name the single most important move Congress could make right now.

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Giffords has learned to navigate an iPad for e-mail with her left hand, because her right hand is paralyzed.

But most of her communicating with former colleagues -- pressing them for new gun laws -- goes through Kelly, and most of it is on the phone from their home in Arizona.

Kelly notes that when they visited congressional offices in February, she didn't have to say much to make her point.

"When Gabby sits in their office and tells them how important a universal background check bill is, they -- they hear that. And she's a former colleague. She was doing her job, you know, like they do every single day, when she was nearly killed," said Kelly.

Representing a 'red' district

When Giffords was in Congress -- she represented her largely Republican Arizona district on the Mexican border -- filled with voters who expected her to defend their gun rights. She pushed to overturn a gun ban in the District of Columbia, and voted to allow guns in national parks.

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A conservative Democrat herself, she knows first-hand how politically hard it is for her former colleagues to support gun restrictions.

"Yes, it's tough," said Giffords.

A big part of what Americans for Responsible Solutions is trying to do is raise enough money and gain enough influence to be a counterweight to the powerful NRA.

Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman from Arizona who was shot and wounded in a 2011 mass shooting, has embarked on gun control efforts with her husband, Mark Kelly. Look back at her life and career before and after she was shot. Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman from Arizona who was shot and wounded in a 2011 mass shooting, has embarked on gun control efforts with her husband, Mark Kelly. Look back at her life and career before and after she was shot.
Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona shooting survivor
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Survivor Gabrielle Giffords Survivor Gabrielle Giffords

When they press senators to support background checks, they tell them they will spend money in their states to back them up and support them.

They said their money -- their organization is a super PAC that can raise unlimited funds -- is coming both from small donors on the Internet and large wealthy donors who are writing big checks.

Stopping 'a bad guy with a gun'

What does Giffords think of the National Rifle Association's argument that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun?

"It doesn't work. It doesn't work!" she exclaimed.

But, realistically, had she not been shot, would the pro-gun congresswoman have been open to voting for stricter gun laws?

"Yes. Yes," Giffords said.

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She tried to describe her politics when in Congress.

"Middle of the road," she said. "Straight in the middle."

There is no question the gun culture is deeply ingrained in Giffords. She still exposes herself to guns, even after her near fatal shooting.

What is it like to hear gunshots go off? Does it startle her?

"No. No," said Giffords.

"I think that's because Gabby doesn't remember the gunshot going off the day she was injured, right? You don't remember that?" Kelly asked Giffords.

"No," Giffords affirmed.

Since Giffords is right-handed, and that hand is paralyzed, she is limited in what she can do with her left hand. That has made joining her husband in target practice impossible.

Would she want to shoot a gun again?

"We've talked about it. Gabby has actually held it. (She) hasn't shot one since she's been injured, but, a few days ago, she was actually trying to aim with it, with her left hand," said Kelly.

Does she want to work towards being able to shoot? Is it a priority?

"Not really," said Giffords. "Not at the top of the list." added Kelly.

Giffords is seen as a good spokesperson for new laws to curb gun violence, even though she can't speak very well.

"It stinks," Giffords responds. Again, two words which speak volumes.

CNN's Ted Barrett contributed to this report

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