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Gabrielle Giffords on guns, recovery, and ‘good stuff’

October 7, 2014, 11:04 PM UTC

Nearly four years after the shooting attack that killed multiple bystanders and brought her to the brink of death, Gabrielle Giffords showed the strength of her recovery by taking the stage at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit.

The Tucson attack left the former Democratic congresswoman with diminished vision, mobility and language, and Giffords acknowledged she’s got plenty of work ahead as she continues to build on the progress she’s already made. “It will be a long, hard haul, but I’m optimistic,” she said. That she was able to utter that sentence with such facility is a testament in itself — and likely a surprise to people who haven’t heard from her in a while.

These days, Giffords said, her rehabilitation regime includes a full load: “Yoga twice a week, French Horn, Spanish lessons, walk on my treadmill, riding my bike, speech therapy. Good stuff, really good stuff.”

Giffords is also speaking through her political organization, Americans for Responsible Solutions, a super PAC dedicated to promoting federal gun control legislation and the candidates who support it. The failure of Congress last year to move a bill in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting was galvanizing, and Giffords’ group is now active in more than a dozen Congressional races. Among them: The race for her old House seat, where a Republican retired Air Force colonel named Martha McSally is trying, for the second time, to unseat Ron Barber, the former Giffords aide who succeeded her in office.

Giffords’ group targeted McSally with a blistering ad that called out her opposition to expanding background checks for gun buyers. The outfit earned some criticism for the spot, including from the Arizona Republic’s editorial page, and it has since taken it down. But Hayley Zachary, executive director of Americans for Responsible Solutions, also credits it with forcing McSally to change her position on the issue.

POLITICO highlighted the dustup in a piece about Giffords getting “mean” — a characterization Giffords on Tuesday judged to be “good stuff” because it is evidence that the campaign is making an impact. Asked her motivation for pushing so hard, in her recovery and in the battle for tougher gun laws, Giffords said, “I want to make the world a better place.”