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'Be bold. Be courageous': Gabby Giffords opens Gun Violence Memorial in LA

Former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was gravely wounded in a 2011 shooting, dedicated the Los Angeles Gun Violence Memorial with a call to action.

“We must never stop fighting,” Giffords said Tuesday. “Fight, fight, fight. Be bold, be courageous. Confronted by paralysis and aphasia, I responded with determination. I put one foot in front of the other. I found one word, and then I found another. But I have not lost my hope. America needs us to speak out, even when you have to fight to find the words.”

Giffords was meeting constituents near Tucson in January 2011 when a gunman opened fire, killing six people and wounding 13, including Giffords, who was struck in the forehead. Since then, she has dedicated her life to advocating for laws to curb gun violence.

The memorial in Expedition Park near the Coliseum includes 3,400 white vases with white flowers to commemorate the more than 3,400 Californians who died in 2020 of gun-related causes. It will be open until Friday.

Arizona had the 18th highest rate of gun deaths in the country. The victims are disproportionately Black (14.3 deaths per 100,000 people) and Native American (6.1 deaths per 100,000 people). Phoenix recorded a 44% increase in gun homicides in 2020, with the total reaching 200. In 2019, There were 1,136 gun deaths in Arizona, according to advocates.

“We started with a memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.,” said Paul Carillo, community violence initiative director for Giffords Law Center in California. “Then we brought the installation to Philadelphia, New York City and now Los Angeles. In the coming months, we will be going to other states to remember the lives of those we have lost to the gun violence epidemic.”

The memorial in Washington included more than 40,000 vases. In 2020, 43,617 gun deaths occured nationwide, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The number on the archive site continually grows as it assesses more data.

“This is a monument to our failure,” California Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel said. “This a monument to our failure as a society, to the failure of congress to pass meaningful, common sense gun safety legislation. We have done a lot of work in the state of California, but we need more action from Washington, D.C.

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“Every time we have a mass shooting, we get thoughts and prayers. We have members of congress and political figures and leaders who tweet out ‘thoughts and prayers.’ Thoughts and prayers are not enough. They’re not going to get the job done, they’re not going to save lives.”

Gabriel mentioned the positive red flag laws in California that show the state as a model for the federal government to follow in creating gun safety laws. Gabriel blames “extremists” in the National Rifle Association who lobby against “common sense gun safety measures that are supported by the majority of people in this country, including gun owners.”

“It is time for us to prioritize the safety and livelihood of our children above the profits of the gun industry,” he said.

LaWanda Hawkins of Los Angeles, an anti-gun violence advocate who has lost family members to firearms, wore a shirt with the faces of 40 children on it. Only one child on the shirt did not die from gun violence.

“If there wasn’t a gun, would they have been alive today? You’re damn right they would’ve been,” Hawkins said. “But because a gun in our community is so easy (to) access, these people lost their lives. This is unacceptable.”

Both Hawkins and state Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer mentioned the disproportionate effect that gun violence has had on minority communities.

“This year alone in L.A. County, 181 of (500 gun deaths) were Black, 268 were Latinos,” Hawkins said. “That means 449 of those 500 were minorities. Where is the outcry?”

Carillo said these deaths are preventable.

“We know what can be done,” he said. “Now the question is: Do our political leaders have the will to do it?”

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David Rodish/Cronkite News

'Confronted by paralysis and aphasia, I responded with determination,' former congresswoman Gabby Giffords says at the Los Angeles Gun Violence Memorial. 'I put one foot in front of the other. I found one word, and then I found another. … America needs us to speak out, even when you have to fight to find the words.'

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