NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) — Nearly two years after being critically wounded in a mass shooting, former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords on Friday met with families of victims in last month's shooting that left 26 people dead inside a Connecticut elementary school.
Giffords was accompanied by her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, at the private meeting in Newtown that was also attended by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
"As always, I was deeply impressed by the strength and courage and resolve of the families and the extraordinary caring and generosity of Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly in visiting with them," Blumenthal said.
Giffords, a Democrat, met earlier in the day with officials including Connecticut's lieutenant governor and Newtown's first selectman.
Giffords was left partially blind, with a paralyzed right arm and brain injury, when a gunman opened fire at a constituent meet-and-greet outside a Tucson grocery store on Jan. 8, 2011. Arizona's chief federal judge and five others were killed and 13 people, including Giffords, were injured.
The gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, pleaded guilty to 19 federal charges and was sentenced to seven consecutive life sentences, plus 140 years.
Kelly has become a vocal advocate for gun control in recent months, most notably at Loughner's sentencing in November. He lashed out at politicians for avoiding a "meaningful debate" about gun laws and called out Arizona Republicans, including the governor, for taking a pro-gun stance in the months after the shooting.
"As a nation we have repeatedly passed up the opportunity to address the issue. After Columbine, after Virginia Tech, after Tucson and after Aurora, we have done nothing," he told the court.
He has issued strongly worded statements many times since the massacre in Connecticut, including a harsh response to the National Rifle Association's reaction to the shooting. He often begins statements with "Gabby and I" as he makes pointed comments about the direction of the gun debate in America.
Kelly said on the day of the Newtown shooting that it should lead to better gun control.
"This time our response must consist of more than regret, sorrow, and condolence," Kelly said on his Facebook page, calling for "a meaningful discussion about our gun laws and how they can be reformed and better enforced to prevent gun violence and death in America."
Blumenthal said he is eager to find allies as he pursues tougher gun control laws.
"I'm hopeful that everyone who cares about this issue or has a stake in it will be active in supporting our effort in gun violence prevention legislatively," he said.
Giffords' visit came one day after Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced the creation of an advisory commission that will review and recommend changes to state laws and policies on issues including gun control in the wake of the Dec. 14 rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The gunman, Adam Lanza, shot and killed his mother, then drove to the school and slaughtered 20 first-graders and six educators before committing suicide as police arrived.
Giffords has appeared in public a few times since the shooting. She came face-to-face with Loughner when he was sentenced and attended ceremonies for the anniversary of the shooting.
She received tributes and ovations when she returned to the House in January 2012 to say goodbye as she resigned her seat and she delivered the Pledge of Allegiance at the Democratic National Convention in September.
On Wednesday, two days before she visited the Newtown families, she and Kelly met for an hour with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a longtime and vociferous gun control advocate. Bloomberg's office tweeted a photo of the meeting but wouldn't elaborate Friday on the discussion.
President Barack Obama invoked the Tucson and Newtown elementary school shootings when he spoke at Newtown shortly after the attack. He said four shootings, including those two plus the attacks at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., marked his first term in office.
A recent Pew Research Center report says gun policy accounted for almost 30 percent of discussions examined on blogs and Twitter in the three days after the school massacre. It compares the response to the Newtown rampage with the Arizona shooting, saying that in the three days after that, just 3 percent of social media conversation was about gun laws.
Associated Press writer Susan Haigh contributed to this report from Hartford, Conn.