I woke up Wednesday morning to images I have prayed I would never see again: A member of Congress and a congressional aide was shot. Children and bystanders scrambling for cover. Fear, danger and rage, apparently, from the shooter, at a quiet neighborhood field where my former colleagues were having baseball practice before Thursday night’s charity game. As my fellow lawmakers had been when I was shot outside a supermarket in Tucson six years ago, I was glued to the television, texting former colleagues and dear friends anxiously and offering my prayers as I awaited news.
I prayed for my colleagues’ safety. I prayed for law enforcement on the scene. I prayed for survivors of this shooting and their families — you don’t recover from a gunshot easily or from the terror of knowing you were a target. I prayed for the residents of Alexandria, Virginia; for kids on their way to school; for people at the nearby gym and coffee shop who were simply going about their days. Mostly, I prayed for courage. For all of them. For all of us.
Why courage? Because the times we are in require it. We owe ourselves, our neighbors and our nation courage.
In the days and weeks to come, I know from personal experience what to expect. As a nation, we will debate violence and honor service — the service of the elected officials and their staff and of local law enforcement and the U.S. Capitol Police, without whom the carnage could have been so much worse. We will debate the availability and use of guns. And we will wonder about the victims — how they are doing and how we can help them — as we wonder, too, about the shooter. What motivated such violence? What can we do to prevent it?
We know, as always, that no one law could prevent a shooting like this. But we also know we must acknowledge a problem: an unacceptable rate of gun violence in this country. And we must acknowledge a deadly problem like this brings a responsibility to find solutions. And that’s where we, as a nation, will need courage in abundance, as my former colleagues find the strength to recover from their wounds — and the bravery to try to make shootings like this one less likely in the future.
We should emulate the courage of the Capitol Police officers who ran toward danger, selflessly putting the safety of those they protect before their own and the Alexandria officers who responded with force within three minutes of the attack.
We will all need courage to speak to one another and actually listen; to put aside partisan political differences and talk with one another, not yell or call names. We can stand shoulder to shoulder and say differences will not prevent us from working toward solutions. We are Americans; it’s in our nature to work toward a better, safer union.
We will dig deep and work together to make sure that in America, teams can gather to play baseball, children can go to school, friends can meet at a dance club and elected officials can go out in public among their neighbors and constituents, all without fear of gun violence.
My service in Congress was one of the greatest privileges of my life. My time in office showed me that whether Republican or Democrat, senator or representative, staff or a sworn officer, service is a shared value — as is safety.
Just a few days ago, on a hot day like Wednesday, under a bright blue sky in Galveston, Texas, I honored the brave men and women who will serve on the USS Gabrielle Giffords, a new Navy ship that bears my name. I told them how much their service means to me — how much I thought about them in the dark hours and days after I was shot, and during my long, and still ongoing, recovery. They say yes, the men and women of our military, when we ask for their service, even when it’s hard and scary and dangerous.
And now so must we. We must stand together. And serve together. And work toward solutions together. When I needed courage, I found it in the people around me — in my colleagues who helped continue my work in Congress, in my neighbors at home who gave me and my family their strength and love, in the support and care of the medical staff around me who never gave up, in the words and actions of my fellow Americans.
My prayer today for my colleagues and their families is they feel our strength and love as they embark on their recovery. My prayer for my country is that we find the courage I know we possess and use it to work toward a safer world, together.
Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat from Arizona, was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 2007 to 2012 and is a co-founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions.