NEWTOWN, Conn. -- Just days before the second anniversary of a mass shooting that critically injured Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman was in Newtown meeting privately with families of those killed during last month's massacre at an elementary school.

Giffords, a Democrat from Arizona, was accompanied Friday by her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal.

"As always, I was deeply impressed by the strength and courage and resolve of the families and the extraordinary caring and generosity of Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly in visiting with them," Blumenthal said.

A gunman fatally shot 26 people – most of them children – inside Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14. He also killed his mother and himself.

Giffords was left partially blind, with a paralyzed right arm and brain injury, when a gunman opened fire at a constituent meet-and-greet outside a Tucson grocery store on Jan. 8, 2011. Arizona's chief federal judge and five others were killed and 13 people, including Giffords, were injured.

She met earlier in the day Friday with officials including Connecticut Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Newtown's First Selectwoman Patricia Llodra. They talked about the need for changes in gun control laws and greater awareness of mental health issues, including identifying and treating people who have mental health problems, Llodra told USA Today.

They also discussed "concerns that our society has become desensitized to acts of violence, conflict and aggression," and the need for adults to examine their role in allowing societal values to become eroded," the newspaper reported.

Kelly has become a vocal advocate for gun control. He lashed out at politicians for avoiding a "meaningful debate" about gun laws and called out Arizona Republicans, including the governor, for taking a pro-gun stance in the months after the Arizona shooting.

"As a nation we have repeatedly passed up the opportunity to address the issue. After Columbine, after Virginia Tech, after Tucson and after Aurora, we have done nothing," he said in November when the Arizona gunman was sentenced.

He has issued strongly worded statements many times since the massacre in Connecticut, including a harsh response to the National Rifle Association's reaction to the shooting. He often begins statements with "Gabby and I" as he makes pointed comments about the direction of the gun debate in America.

Kelly said on the day of the Newtown shooting that it should lead to better gun control.

"This time our response must consist of more than regret, sorrow, and condolence," Kelly said on his Facebook page, calling for "a meaningful discussion about our gun laws and how they can be reformed and better enforced to prevent gun violence and death in America."

Blumenthal said he is eager to find allies as he pursues tougher gun control laws.

"I'm hopeful that everyone who cares about this issue or has a stake in it will be active in supporting our effort in gun violence prevention legislatively," he said.

Giffords' visit came one day after Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced the creation of an advisory commission that will review and recommend changes to state laws and policies on issues including gun control in the wake of the rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Giffords has appeared in public a few times since the shooting. She came face-to-face with Loughner when he was sentenced and attended ceremonies for the anniversary of the shooting.

She received tributes and ovations when she returned to the House in January 2012 to say goodbye as she resigned her seat and she delivered the Pledge of Allegiance at the Democratic National Convention in September.

On Wednesday, two days before Giffords visited the Newtown families, she and Kelly met for an hour with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a longtime and vociferous gun control advocate. Bloomberg's office tweeted a photo of the meeting but wouldn't elaborate Friday on the discussion.

President Barack Obama invoked the Tucson and Newtown elementary school shootings when he spoke at Newtown shortly after the attack. He said four shootings, including those two plus the attacks at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., marked his first term in office.

A recent Pew Research Center report says gun policy accounted for almost 30 percent of discussions examined on blogs and Twitter in the three days after the school massacre. It compares the response to the Newtown rampage with the Arizona shooting, saying that in the three days after that, just 3 percent of social media conversation was about gun laws.

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Associated Press writer Susan Haigh contributed to this report from Hartford, Conn.

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