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Former U.S. Representative Giffords skydives on anniversary of shooting

Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords speaks to reporters during the New Eastcoast Arms Collectors Associates Arms Fair at the Saratoga Spring
Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords speaks to reporters during the New Eastcoast Arms Collectors Associates Arms Fair at the Saratoga Spring

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Former U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot and badly wounded in a shooting rampage, went skydiving on Wednesday to mark the third anniversary of the attack that nearly took her life, according to an NBC journalist who accompanied her.

Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, was shot in the head on January 8, 2011, when gunman Jared Loughner opened fire on her and others at a congressional outreach event in Tucson, killing six people and wounding 13 others.

NBC "Today" show journalist Savannah Guthrie, who was on the plane for the jump on Wednesday, wrote on Twitter that Giffords "stuck the landing." Giffords has skydived before, but this was her first jump since the shooting, according to "Today."

Before the skydive, Giffords, 43, tweeted a picture of herself with parachute equipment strapped to her back and said in the post that Vice President Joe Biden had called to wish her good luck. "Join me next time?" she asked Biden in the tweet.

She also said on Twitter that she would be jumping in southern Arizona with her friend, former Navy SEAL Jimmy Hatch.

In an opinion piece in the New York Times on Wednesday, Giffords said that three years after the attack that wounded her she still struggles to speak, her eyesight is "not great," and her right arm and leg have been "paralyzed." But she said she was beginning to gain movement in the arm.

Giffords resigned from Congress two years ago to focus on her recovery. Her popularity and political stature soared as she battled through a difficult recuperation.

She compared her fight against gun violence, which has been her focus since leaving office, to her rehabilitation and said the United States needed reforms such as strengthening and expanding background checks for gun purchases and making it illegal for stalkers and domestic abusers to buy firearms.

"I've seen grit overcome paralysis," she wrote. "My resolution today is that Congress achieve the same."

TUCSON CEREMONIES

Giffords says that she and her husband, retired astronaut and U.S. Navy Captain Mark Kelly, are proud gun owners. Last year, they founded Americans for Responsible Solutions to lobby and campaign for proposals to prevent gun violence.

The group said in a post on its website that it spent $600,000 in Virginia last year to oppose Republican candidates for governor and lieutenant governor due to their positions on guns. The two candidates lost in the November vote.

Giffords and a mother of a boy slain in the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, have also co-authored a lesson plan for classrooms to discuss the massacre that left 20 children and six adult staff members dead at Sandy Hook Elementary.

The man who shot Giffords, a college dropout with a history of psychiatric disorders, is serving a life sentence for the shooting at a Tucson area supermarket where Giffords was meeting constituents

Loughner, 25, pleaded guilty in 2012 to murdering six people and wounding 13 others, including Giffords. He admitted to going to the supermarket armed with a loaded Glock 19 pistol with the intention to assassinate her.

Those slain in the attack included U.S. District Judge John Roll and 9-year-old girl Christina-Taylor Green.

In Tucson on Wednesday, bells were rung to mark the anniversary of the shooting, including at one event attended by Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, who posted a photo on his Facebook page

U.S. Representative Ron Barber, a Democrat and former aide to Giffords wounded in the shooting and later elected to fill her former seat, led a moment of silence on the House floor, according to a statement from his office.

U.S. Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, said in a statement that he joins citizens across the state "to pause and remember those lost in a senseless and shocking act of violence in Tucson three years ago."

"We pray for the continued recovery of all those wounded, including my friend Gabrielle Giffords, whose courage and perseverance has inspired our state and nation," he said.

(Additional reporting by Brad Poole in Benson, Arizona, Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, James Dalgleish and Jonathan Oatis)

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