September 19, 2019 | 47° F

Former congresswoman announces $2M grant towards gun research at Rutgers

Photo by Brendan Brightman |

New Jersey has the second lowest death rate from gun violence in the country, according to a report from the Giffords Law Center. Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly spoke about those statistics and more at Rutgers yesterday. 

Rutgers has received a $2 million funding grant to conduct research on gun violence, Captain Mark Kelly and former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) announced yesterday at the Gov. James J. Florio Distinguished Visiting Scholar in Public Policy Lecture, hosted by the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.

The grant is funded through the Center for Gun Violence Research awarded by the State of New Jersey. 

Giffords was the victim of an assassination attempt and mass shooting while meeting with constituents near Tucson, Ariz. on Jan. 8, 2011.

Kelly, a U.S astronaut who has traveled to space four times, was in Houston when the shooting occurred.

“I was talking to my daughter about something,” Kelly said. “And my cell phone rings, and its Gabby’s chief of staff. He says to me, ‘Mark I don’t know how to tell you this but Gabby has been shot.’ She didn’t have a lot of information. We hung up from that phone call. I told my daughter, Claudia, ‘Wake your sister up,’ and a little while later I started thinking to myself, ‘Did that really just happen? Did I really just get that phone call or did I just imagine it?’”

Soon after news networks started reporting that Gabby was dead. A mistake that continued for approximately a half hour, Kelly said.

Giffords would survive the attack, but not without permanent brain damage, he said. She now suffers from aphasia, causing difficulty with language and speaking.

“Everyday is gift, live everyday to the fullest,” Giffords said.

Before being elected to the U.S House of Representatives in 2006, Giffords first began her career in public service in 2001 in the Arizona House of Representatives, becoming the youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona Senate one year later.

She would serve in the House until she stepped down to focus on recovery from her injuries in January 2012.      

Giffords and her husband have since devoted their lives to advocating for the prevention of gun violence and stricter gun control.  

“They’ve (Giffords and Kelly) been showing a way for people to understand the problems associated with the epidemic of gun violence,” said former Gov. James J. Florio (D-N.J.). “As with any other epidemic with the need for education and the need for remediation.”

Their organization has tried to combat campaign funding by the National Rifle Association (NRA), which gives to pro gun control candidates across the country, including in New Jersey.

But, their organization conducts research as well, Kelly said.

The Fund for New Jersey, he said, funded the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which is now part of their organization. The Center did a report on New Jersey’s gun laws and gun violence.

It found that New Jersey has one of the lowest death rates in the nation. For every 100,000 people, 5.5 die from gun violence per year, according to the report. The rate in New Jersey comes in second nationwide, behind Massachusetts’ three deaths per 100,000 people.

After Giffords and Kelly spoke, they sat in on a panel that included Florio, Stuart Shapiro, associate dean and professor of Policy at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, William Castner, Jr., senior advisor to the Governor on Firearms for the State of New Jersey and Cecille de Laurentis, graduate student in the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.

Laurentis said, as a young person herself, it is not only inspiring to see how Giffords and Kelly could make an impactful change in this world, but also how young people, such as the students from Parkland could make a change, proving it is doable for her and other Rutgers students.

Making a difference does not stop at voting, she said.

Florio said that in a democracy people need to talk to the other side. People who support gun control should talk to gun owners and hunters, tell them why they disagree, he said.

“We have to get people engaged and involved,” Florio said. “Engaged because that is the nature of our process, its called participatory democracy. The process doesn’t really work unless we all work at making it work.”

Brendan Brightman

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