This week, we caught up with Daniel Hernandez Jr., who was lauded for his heroism after he rushed to help former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot outside a Tucson, Ariz., grocery store nearly two years ago. The former intern to Giffords looks back at the shooting and tells us what lies ahead for him.
1) We are approaching the two-year anniversary of the shooting in Arizona that left six people dead and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded. How has the experience of being there — seeing that sort of violence and death firsthand — impacted your life? Is it something you think about on a daily basis?
Having been involved in the Jan. 8 tragedy has changed my perspective. Many things which seemed vitally important Jan. 7, 2011 now seem trivial. It was a life changing event at 20 years old to go from college junior and intern to being live on “This Week” with Ms. Amanpour discussing the tragedy where six people were brutally murdered. While I think about it often I’ve found that as time has gone on I think less about the specifics of the 8th of January and more about what it means to be able to take such a traumatic incident and try and find positives.
I often try and think how can I as an individual do my part to make this world a better place? It’s been my impetus for trying to make sure more people are becoming involved in public service especially those in under-represented categories such as Latinos, young people and the LGBT community.
2) Jared Loughner was recently sentenced for the shooting. He’ll spend the rest of his life in prison. How did you feel when you heard the news? Have you spoken to former Congresswoman Giffords since you heard?
While we may have had a failure as a community and as country with our mental health system which ultimately led to this young man taking the actions that he did, we had a fair and just process. Justice has been achieved. The sentencing of Mr. Loughner was the resolution of a 22-month chapter in the lives of those affected. I’m glad that we were able to achieve this without going through a lengthy and emotional trial that could have potentially dragged on for months or years, making the healing harder for all involved.
I haven’t spoken to the congresswoman at length on the sentencing but did briefly speak to her at the hearing and the comment she said was “we’re done now.” I think that is one sentiment that I can wholeheartedly agree with, this chapter is done and we can move on to ensure that this community is not defined by the actions of a madman with a gun but instead by a community driven by the desire to do good.
3) There have of course been more mass shootings since the events in Arizona, including the Aurora, Colo., shooting, which left 12 people dead. What do you think should be done to help prevent mass shootings from happening in the future?
I completely agree with the comments made by Commander Mark Kelly at the hearing. We must have common sense changes made to ensure that high capacity magazines are not something that can be easily purchased. And also make sure that we have any loopholes in these guns laws closed. Being able to purchase guns at a gun show without a background check is beyond ludicrous and I hope now that the dust has settled on the election we get serious about ensuring that another tragedy like Aurora or Tucson happen again.
I am completely for the Second Amendment, however, there is no reason someone needs 30 rounds for self protection or for hunting. We must also make sure that assault weapons stay where they belong, on the battlefield not on main street.
4) Are you disappointed that the president has not pushed harder for tougher gun laws?
No, because I understand he had to run for reelection and this would have been a toxic issue for the campaign. But now that the election is over and he’s won I hope there will be serious discussion and changes made to laws. Like he said soon after his reelection, he’s earned political capital and I hope he uses it on this issue.
5) What was your reaction to hearing that Ron Barber, who was an aide to former Congresswoman Giffords and injured in the shooting himself – won a full term to Congress? Bittersweet?
It was a very close and stressful election but at the end of the day a very bittersweet victory to see my friend Ron Barber elected to a full term. I know Ron’s character and know that he will be a hard working and dedicated member who will accurately represent Southern Arizona much like Congresswoman Giffords before him.
6) What lies ahead for you?
I’m currently serving to a position I was elected to in November of 2011. The Sunnyside Unified School District governing board. It has been a pleasure to be able to give back to my community in this way. I am extremely passionate about education and know that this is an issue that will be one that needs strong champions. I’m also working on an exciting project due in February that will be announced in the coming days.