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September 9, 2012

What’s Wrong With this Picture: the Gabby Giffords DNC Appearance and Gun Violence

Giffords DNC 2012 long

With the party congratulating itself for programming Gabby Giffords’ final convention night recitation of the pledge of allegiance, and so many news outlets having extolled Gabby’s proud but not exactly fluid or easy rendition as a brilliant Hallmark moment, it’s worth stepping back and taking a closer look at what this scene was all about. Specifically, the question that bears asking is: how could this striking cameo occur (especially with the giant flag on the video screen also setting up patriotic associations to Giffords) without any heed to the political issue underlying her maiming?

Yes, there was language in the DNC platform about banning assault weapons and requiring background checks on all gun sellers, as well as a call for “an open conversation about firearms.” Still, the tepidness of the party on the issue of gun control couldn’t be more obvious the way the subject failed to come up in all the prominent speeches.

The point is, Giffords appearance on Thursday night could easily have been a “profile in courage” moment as well as a near unassailable public statement about gun violence. If you look at the DNC video of the Giffords appearance, as well as the cross section of photos that primarily crossed the newswire, however, you’ll notice that Giffords’ physical condition was minimized, Gabby captured instead looking as much like her old self as you could imagine. As a striking emotional moment in the convention hall, what the media chose to communicate was the groundswell of sympathy for Giffords as a hearty survivor.

Gifford Salon screen shot DNC

What the prominent wire photos and the DNC video de-emphasize, however, is the shock and grief in so many faces as the audience encountered Giffords and the physical evidence of how debilitated Gabby remains.

Watching Gabby Giffords DNC 2012

Gabby Giffords DNC 2012 5

Gabby Giffords DNC 2012 7

If you watch an unedited version, you can see the stress and concern on the face of Democratic Chairperson and good friend of Giffords, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, guiding Gabby on stage before the pledge starts and hopeful that Giffords can do the job. Also, you’ll notice in the shot below how Giffords has to hold her arm to prevent it from waving given the neurological damage.

Gabby Giffords DNC 2012 2

Gabby Giffords DNC 2012 3

All in all, it went by pretty fast, fast enough for tears, but not enough time to understand that this episode ran a lot deeper than simply inspiration.

Gabby Giffords DNC 2012 1

With the unconscionably easy access to high power weapons, the deeply ingrained glorification of violence in American society (demonstrated at the convention by the repeated USA chants and the blood lust over the killing of bin Laden (about which, Glenn Greenwald’s piece is a must read) and, along with that, the deeply troubling and terrifying string of mass shootings this summer, the fact Gabby Giffords brave appearance at the DNC proved to singularly serve as political theater and a feel good moment at the expense of any framing of what befell her, is (for a party in need of more backbone) all too easy to believe.

(screen shots: WSJ DNC video. photo 3: Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters caption: An Ohio delegate weeps after former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords walked onstage to lead the convention in the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance during the final session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina September 6, 2012.)

  • ST

    Thanks for this. incredible and illogical that gun control is such a non-issue.

  • bks

    War on drugs, killer drones assassinating *American citizens*, Afghanistan, tax cuts. Obama is the best Republican president since Eisenhower.


    • Cheryl Moeller-Liniman

      And the previous admin. was as innocent as newborn babes …. they put the programs in place. They stole the American dream and even our means to support ourselves. Romney wants to finish off the job. There’s a few dollars here and there they haven’t taken yet.

  • Catherine McCallum

    What I came away with was that this was the most powerful message supporting gun control I’d ever seen. I thought it was brave of Gabby and of the Dems to make clear the extent of the damage done by the bullet to her brain. Sure, Obama could have talked about gun control. EVERYBODY could have talked about gun control, and after awhile it would have joined all the rest of the blah-blah. What they chose to do instead was to sear this memory into our brains. Nobody dozed while Gabby Giffords made her painful way across the stage.

    You seriously underestimate the American people when you assume they can’t make the association. In fact, nobody missed it.

    • kidzmom1

      I would agree. I think her halting walk, Wasserman-Schultz’s expression of deep concern (even starting the pledge maybe as a prompt?), and the tears on faces was in no way a “missed message”. All I could think about was bullets and brains.

  • Scarabus

    I thought the moment spoke for itself, mostly; but you roused my curiosity, so I looked up what the official platform adopted (and embarrassingly amended!) at the convention had to say:

    “We recognize that the individual right to bear arms is an important
    part of the American tradition, and we will preserve Americans’ Second
    Amendment right to own and use firearms. We believe that the right to
    own firearms is subject to reasonable regulation. We
    understand the terrible consequences of gun violence; it serves as a
    reminder that life is fragile, and our time here is limited and
    precious. We believe in an honest, open national conversation about
    firearms. We can focus on effective enforcement of existing laws,
    especially strengthening our background check system, and we can work
    together to enact commonsense improvements – like reinstating the assault weapons ban and closing the gun show loophole – so that guns do not fall into the hands of those irresponsible, law-breaking few.”

  • Psyd

    It’s pretty darned simple. You’re asking what they are going to do about guns. Guns are used to commit violence because they are efficient, and people are either really desperate or really crazy. Take away the guns, and you still have desperate and crazy people who want to commit violence, and are using the next-most-efficient means.

    What the Dems are proposing is that we get the crazy people some help with their medical problems, and the desperate people some help with their economic woes.
    If you work on that, and make it happen, what you have left are people who are not crazy or desperate and do not want to commit violence. With guns.
    Given the two options, I’ll put my money and efforts on the latter, to win, please.

  • Scarabus

    Surfing back… GG was photographed and videotaped on the floor of the House casting her vote. Not quibbling about which was first. Just noting that the combination of the appearances might add up to, say, 5? rather than 1 + 1 = 2.

  • gFlea

    Those weren’t tears of “sympathy” “shock” or “grief” they were tears of awe and pride that occur when you witness someone with a great spirit that can endure and overcome great setbacks. I’m very sad for you that you misread those tears.

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