SURPRISE, ARIZONA — The last time a woman represented Arizona’s 8th district in Congress, her term was cut short when a constituent opened fire in a grocery store parking lot, killing six people and injuring a dozen others.
On Monday night, the eve of a special election in the Phoenix-area district, former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) and her husband urged a crowd of hundreds of voters to elect Democrat Hiral Tipirneni to fill Giffords’ former seat — arguing that Tipirneni is the only candidate who will stand up to the gun lobby in Congress and fight for common-sense reform.
“We must do better, we must stop gun violence,” Giffords said, her speech still impaired from the severe brain injury she sustained in the 2011 shooting.
— Kira Lerner (@kira_lerner) April 24, 2018
In the seven years since Giffords was forced to step down from Congress, the 8th district has moved from Tucson to Phoenix. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) won the seat in 2012 and served until earlier this year, when he resigned amid reports that he offered an aide $5 million to carry his child. Now, a woman will once again hold the seat, as Tiperneni is facing Republican Debbie Lesko in another hotly contested special election that could help determine control of the House after November.
Lesko, who currently serves in the Arizona state senate, has taken the standard GOP position on gun control. She has said “she supports limited measures to temporarily restrict access to guns by those with documented histories of instability, but doesn’t want wholesale changes to gun laws,” according to the Arizona Republic.
Tiperneni, a former emergency room doctor, has spoken about the tolls of gun violence she experienced firsthand when she treated shooting victims. “A night shift did not go by where you didn’t see several gunshot wounds,” Tipirneni told ThinkProgress in an interview earlier this month. “It stays with you.”
In addition to Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, a student organizer with the Phoenix chapter of March for Our Lives joined Tiperneni’s election eve event in Sunrise, Arizona.
“The day after the Parkland shooting, I stood in my living room getting ready for school and I was just sobbing watching the Snapchat videos of the tragedy that occurred the day before in Florida,” said the student, a 16-year-old sophomore at Millenium High School in Goodyear, Arizona. “I could not let this be normalized. I could not let it be my school next.”
“We have faith in Dr. Hiral — that she will bring this change to Washington — because in the state, we’re not getting responses from the governor or our representatives and senators,” she added.
Tipirneni supporters told ThinkProgress that gun control is one of their top concerns.
“This issue has become a single issue for us,” said Sun City resident Howard Neiberg, who attended the event with his wife, Teresa Nieberg. Teresa told ThinkProgress that she often thinks about her granddaughter, who was born around the time of the Sandy Hook shooting.
“That child is now five years old and getting ready to go to kindergarten, and I am frightened out of my mind,” she said. “It’s been five years and nothing has changed.”
Both voters, who volunteer with the local chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, became teary-eyed when they talked about hearing Giffords speak.
“To see her still in her state be able to come up and actively support sensible gun laws, and also be part of her organization, it’s very moving and very impressive,” Howard said.
“There’s only one solution: We have to vote out the people who aren’t representing us on this issue,” he added.