Gabrielle Giffords drives a car again, three years after shooting
Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords pumps her fist as she testifies before a Washington state House panel Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, in Olympia, Wash. (AP / Elaine Thompson)
Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, February 8, 2014 3:15PM EST
WASHINGTON -- A U.S. politician who survived a gunshot wound to her brain has, three years later, driven a car for the first time since the shooting.
Gabrielle Giffords has posted a video in which she takes the wheel, with her husband offering encouragement from the passenger seat. The former Arizona congresswoman is seen handling sharp turns at the professional car-racing track in Austin, Texas.
"2014 will be a year of many wins for me -- moments when I do something I thought I might never be able to do again," Giffords said in a Facebook message.
"I started the year by skydiving with my good friend, former Navy Seal Jimmy Hatch. Since then, I've been practicing my French Horn, working on my speaking, and walking a bit faster every day. And most recently, I travelled to the Circuit of The Americas and drove for the first time since the shooting that nearly took my life."
Six people were killed and 12 were injured in the January 2011 shooting. Jared Lee Loughner has since been sentenced to seven consecutive life sentences, plus 140 years.
Giffords still struggles to speak and walk.
She retired from Congress in 2012 but has become very active in the gun-control cause. She was among the victims of gun violence invited to attend President Barack Obama's state of the union speech last year, in which he implored Congress to bring gun-control measures to the floor: "Gabby Giffords deserves a vote," the president said, adding, "the families of Newtown deserve a vote."
In the end, Congress rejected a plan to expand background checks on firearm purchases and tighten rules for sales at gunshows. Most senators supported the measures in a 54-46 vote, but it fell short of the required 60-vote threshold. Obama has since issued about two-dozen executive orders on gun control, including for research about the causes of gun violence and for information-sharing about mental illness.
Giffords, meanwhile, has started a group called Americans for Responsible Solutions that has raised more money than any other so-called "super-PAC" in recent months. She and her husband have promised to use those funds to buy election ads targeting politicians who oppose gun control.
Her husband, ex-astronaut Mark Kelly, is overheard in the driving video.
"Slow down, slow down," he tells his wife as she approaches a curve on the race track.
"Up the hill, hairpin turn coming up... This is like a 70-degree turn."
Kelly says his wife's biggest driving challenge will be learning to turn the wheel, with the use of only one hand.
Giffords replies, answering "yes" as her eyes remain fixed on the road.
The video has since been posted on Facebook, along with a note. In it, Giffords says the experience was a bit like racing her motorcycle back in Arizona -- only this time it was her, her husband, and an empty track.
"I feel honored to have taken this important step on one of the finest tracks in the world," she said.
"While I may not be Mario Andretti, I think I handled the road pretty well."