“I’ve read that after a life-changing incident — it doesn’t have to necessarily be seeing six people dead on the sidewalk and 13 wounded — but after a life-changing incident you either become more of who you were — whether to the good, the bad — or you make a 180-degree,” said Pat Maisch, who witnessed the 2011 mass shooting outside a Tucson Safeway store. “And [you] change your life in some way. Good or bad. You know, it’s unpredictable.”
For Maisch, the shooting pushed her toward activism, and into public speaking against gun violence and in favor of reforming gun laws.
“I think I've become more of who I was, which is compassionate, activist, wanting to see change, working for change,” Maisch said. “It has enriched me in that way, making me more active.”
Maisch, who is credited for grabbing the bullet magazine before the shooter could reload, certainly helped stop the rampage on Jan. 8, 2011. Two men tackled the young man who was set on killing Giffords and innocent bystanders.
The gunman came to the U.S. Representative Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords “Congress on Your Corner” event that invited constituents to talk, and or to share grievances and greetings. He shot Giffords in the head, leaving her with a brain injury and partial paralysis, injured 12 others and killed six people, including one of her staffers and others who were waiting in line to speak with their representative.
After the shooting, Maisch, then 68, became a vocal member of Everytown for Gun Safety (formerly Mayors Against Illegal Guns).
On Jan. 8, 2019, Maisch traveled to Washington D.C., and with Giffords and other survivors of shootings, she stood in solidarity as House Bill 8 was put forward in memory of the Tucson shooting on its eighth anniversary. The bill calls for universal background checks of people purchasing firearms, including sales at gun shows.
Maisch has spoken out for gun reform outside National Riffle Association rallies, testified in front of various state senates, and backed the signings of gun legislation.
“Until or unless you already know how horrible the gun laws are that the NRA and the gun lobby have been working like for 40 years to quietly change legislators in states [and] then to change them federally, you don't realize how poor the gun laws are and how easy it is to access firearms,” she said. “And when I did find that out, I wanted to help change that. Testifying before the Senate in D.C. was my first opportunity.”
Maisch became well known for her advocacy in 2013 after she yelled “Shame on You” at U.S. Senators from the gallery after they refused to pass a bill on gun reform in response to the 2012 slaughter of 20 children and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. After her angry outburst, she was questioned by law enforcement for nearly two hours before being released.
In 2016, the silver-haired Maisch was arrested in Washington D.C. after she and other gun-violence protesters staged a sit-in on the floor of the Capitol rotunda.
“I used to call myself an advocate. But since things have politically changed so drastically, most of us call ourselves activists now,” Maisch said. “We don’t have the patience for advocacy.”
Maisch, who with her husband owns an air-conditioning business in Tucson, also has no patience for the NRA or the politicians who are beholden to the organization.
“I call him Mitch-bitch-to-the-NRA McConnell,” she said, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has reportedly received $1.26 billion from the NRA over his political career, and in 2016 said he would not endorse any Supreme Court candidate who did not receive a nod from the NRA.
“We have to get the dirty money out of our elections,” she said.
In the meantime, Pat Maisch plans to continue her new roll as a gun-reform activist, traveling across the country to advocate on behalf of others, some of whom can no longer speak for themselves.
Many are survivors too traumatized to speak. Others are victims who were shot dead.
Mary Tolan is a fiction writer and journalist. Her first published book Mars Hill Murder, a mystery set in Flagstaff, will be published by The Wild Rose Press in autumn of 2023.