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Giffords: 'Too many children are dying … you must act'

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' words during a brief opening statement at a Senate hearing on gun violence were careful, slow and deliberate.

But they were firm: "Too many children are dying," she said Wednesday, breaking up the syllables during her testimony to open a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun laws.

Slideshow: Ariz. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

"It will be hard, but the time is NOW," said Giffords, who has embarked on an arduous recovery after being critically wounded at Tucson Safeway while meeting with constituents in early 2011. "You. Must. Act. Be bold. Be cour-ag-eous. Amer-i-cans are count-ing on you."

Giffords has emerged as one of the leading gun safety advocates prompted by the December 2012 shootings in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 elementary school children and 6 adults.

She walked into Wednesday's hearing, making a surprise appearance at the first gun-related hearing held in Congress since the Newtown shooting. Her husband, Mark Kelly, held her hand and carefully guided her to her seat in front of the Senate panel.

Related: Obama's gun plan begins slow, scrutinized trek through Congress

She spoke for just over a minute. Kelly, who was set to testify at length, helped her back out of the room.

"Gabby's gift for speech is a distant memory," Kelly planned to say later in the hearing. "She struggles to walk, and she is partially blind. Her right arm is completely paralyzed." 

Giffords and Kelly were to testify ahead of the National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre, as well as three other witnesses.