Former Navy pilot astronaut Mark Kelly is an engaging speaker. His stories about combat missions during the first Gulf War and his four trips into space are filled with colorful detail.
He speaks movingly about the horrifically shocking day when he learned his wife, Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, had been shot during an appearance in a supermarket parking lot. His account of her painfully slow but remarkable recovery is tender and inspiring.
Speaking for an hour without notes, he delivered lessons from his remarkable life to a big audience at IPFW's Auer Performance Hall. Have a goal and work steadily to achieve it; analyze problems and learn from them; learn to be patient; and don't be dissuaded by failure.
Though he and Giffords have advocated for responsible gun policies – Kelly outlined some of the proposed solutions in an oped piece last Sunday – he did not use his platform as the season's first Omnibus speaker to promote their legislative agenda.
But when he received a question about gun issues in the wake of last week's Las Vegas shootings, Kelly spoke from the heart, drawing on what he's learned about guns, and suffering and courage:
“Last week, we had 58 people murdered, nearly 500 injured. Yesterday, I was at the hospital. I visited with two young women, one was 30, the other one was 25, who had severe traumatic brain injuries. One of them has two kids, the other was there with her boyfriend. Their lives and those around them have been changed forever.
“But that's just two people out of 100,000 people in our country that get shot every year. We have about 11,000 people murdered every year with a gun; probably another 20,000 or so commit suicide.
“It's not like any other country in the world – any other industrialized country, any country we would ever want to be compared to. We've got 20 times the death rate of gun violence. And I just don't think we should accept that as normal.”
After a wave of applause, Kelly continued.
“You know, it's a problem. And for problems, there are solutions. And it's the job of Congress and the White House and governors and state legislators to figure this out, and what keeps us safer. And we can look at data ... and that data leads you to solutions ...
“I just think we've just got to convince members of Congress and others that they can do this and not lose their next election – and that's the challenging part.”