Oct 14, 2:59 PM EDT

Giffords begins 9-state tour on women, guns


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PORTLAND, Maine (AP) -- Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords on Tuesday urged women in Maine to help prevent stalkers and abusers from getting guns, part of a nine-state tour to advocate for tougher laws she says can protect domestic violence victims.

The former Arizona congresswoman, who was severely wounded in a 2011 shooting in Tucson that killed six people, told law enforcement officials, domestic violence advocates and others that those who seek "common sense" gun reforms can lead the way in safeguarding women and families from abusers.

"We can change our laws. We can win elections. Please join your voice with mine," she told the roughly 20 people gathered at the University of Southern Maine campus to discuss gun control policy ideas and challenges.

Giffords, who was shot in the head and remains partially paralyzed, spoke haltingly but clearly as she described gun violence as a pressing issue for women.

During the more than weeklong tour that will take Giffords from Maine to Washington, she will urge residents to press their state and federal officials to prohibit people convicted of stalking and domestic violence misdemeanors from possessing guns.

Her gun-control advocacy group, Americans for Responsible Solutions, calls guns and domestic violence "a lethal mix," noting that abuse victims are more than five times more likely to be killed if the aggressor has access to a gun.

Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, did a similar trek across the country last year, designed to generate momentum for federal legislation that would expand background checks on gun purchases. Even a scaled back version of the bill was defeated in a divided Congress.

Portland Police Chief Mike Sauschuck said framing the discussion about gun reform as a domestic violence issue can break down political barriers that have stymied legislation in the past.

"The only way to get this conversation started, to get your foot in the door ... is with the domestic violence approach," said Sauschuck, the only man who participated in the discussion. "Because it's that important and politicians are that scared of it. Because they should be."

The tour will take Giffords to New Hampshire, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Minnesota, Iowa and Oregon. The last stop of the tour will be in Seattle, Washington, on Oct. 22.

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