80 words, with a halting voice

WASHINGTON – She uttered just 80 halting words. But her presence was powerful.

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, shot in the head by a Tucson gunman in 2011, opened the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing about gun violence in dramatic fashion Wednesday.

“OK,” she began, steeling herself before a packed yet hushed committee room.

“Speaking is difficult,” she continued, pronouncing each syllable with deliberation.

This 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.

And that was it.

Giffords had been working on her statement for the last week, but didn’t decide to go through with delivering it until Tuesday night, said 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.

She continues to undergo physical and speech therapy every week. She is right-handed, and the shooting completely paralyzed that arm, so her speech therapist wrote out the testimony that Giffords read.