Retired U.S. Army Col. Bill Badger, who was wounded while helping to take down the gunman during the 2011 Tucson shooting that critically injured former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, died on Wednesday from pneumonia. He was 78.
On Jan. 8, 2011, Jared Lee Loughner opened fire outside of a Safeway in Tucson, Arizona, as Giffords was holding a meeting for her constituents. He killed six people and wounded 13 more. Badger and Giffords were two of the injured individuals.
"I hit him as hard as I could, and he hit the sidewalk ... I said, 'If you move, I'll choke you.'"'
During press conferences after the incident, Badger said he was standing on the curb about 10 feet away from where the shooting was taking place, not far from his home in Tucson's Catalina Foothills.
"The first thing I thought, it was a firecracker. But then I heard the 'bang, bang,' consistent 'bang,'" he said during an interview that aired on msnbc's "PolitcsNation" in 2013. "He was shooting at point-blank range everybody that was sitting in a chair."
Then, Badger said, the gunman looked at him and pointed his gun in his direction.
"When he grabbed it with his second hand, I dropped to the ground. And when I dropped to the ground, I felt a bullet hit me right in the back of the head," he added. When the shooting stopped, he said, someone threw a folding chair at Loughner and then Badger "clamped down" on his left arm.
"I hit him as hard as I could, and he hit the sidewalk," he added. "I said, 'If you move, I'll choke you.'" Badger, along with a few other people, held the gunman to the ground until police arrived at the scene.
Loughner pleaded guilty to the shootings, and in November 2012 was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Four months later, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department released almost 3,000 pages of documents about the attack. It revealed that Loughner's family and friends suspected something was wrong with him before the shooting and his parents hid his shotgun and disabled his car at night.
Badger, who was born in South Dakota, had said he started hunting when he was 6 years old, and began shooting pheasants at age 9. Still, he spent his years after the shooting lobbying with other survivors for stronger gun laws. He met with legislators and spoke to groups, specifically about passing universal background checks on all commercial sales to prevent people with severe mental illnesses from obtaining guns, The Arizona Republic reported. A loophole in the federal system currently allows people to buy firearms sold online and at gun shows without first passing a background check.
"Both of us conservatives feel that this is not a political, or should not be a political issue. This, we believe, should not have anything to do with being a Democrat or being a Republican," Badger's wife, Sallie, said during the "PoliticsNation" interview.
Giffords, a Democrat, now struggles to speak and has weakened eyesight. She planned to devote her congressional life to public service, but resigned from office. Four years later, her mission has meant pouring her energy into curbing gun laws. This week she called Badger a "hero."
"Bill was not only a great man and a proud Army veteran, he was a hero," Giffords wrote in a statement. "I believe that Bill helped save lives that morning. And I will always be grateful to him for his selfless, brave actions."
Funeral arrangements have not yet been finalized.