WASHINGTON — She uttered just 80 halting words. But her presence was powerful.
Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, shot in the head by a Tucson, Ariz., gunman in 2011, opened the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing on gun violence Wednesday in dramatic fashion.
"Okay," she began, steeling herself before a packed yet hushed committee room.
"Speaking is difficult," she continued, pronouncing each syllable with deliberation.
The former congresswoman, once blessed with a politician's easy gift of gab, spoke in a high pitch, her voice almost childlike.
"I need to say something important. Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something.
"It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you."
Giffords, her every movement labored, punctuated her conclusion by raising a clenched fist to her chest.
Her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, then gently guided her from the table and returned to fill out the picture.
"Gabby's gift for speech is a distant memory," Kelly said. "She struggles to walk, and she is partially blind. And a year ago, she left a job she loves, serving the people of Arizona."
Giffords had been working on her statement for the past week, but she didn't decide to go through with delivering it until Tuesday night, according to Pia Carusone, her former chief of staff. Her appearance at the witness table offered rare insight into her condition. Her family has closely guarded her privacy and the details of her impairment.