A pro-gay US congresswoman is in a critical condition and six people were killed after a gunman opened fire at her public meeting in Arizona.

Gabrielle Giffords, of Tucson, remains gravely ill in hospital after being shot in the head at close range on Saturday.

She has reportedly been able to move her fingers and toes, giving doctors hope she will recover.

Her intern, Daniel Hernandez, has been credited with helping to save her life by applying pressure to the bullet entry wound on her forehead.

Despite being 30 metres away, the openly gay staffer is said to have run towards the gunshots to help victims. He had only started his job five days before.

Ms Giffords’ aide Gabe Zimmerman, 30, was one of those killed when a gunman began shooting during the meeting in a shopping centre.

The others were US District Judge John Roll, Dorothy Morris, 76, Dorwan Stoddard, 76, Phyllis Schneck, 79, and Christina Taylor Green, nine.

Thirteen more people were injured.

Jared Loughner, 22, has been charged with the shootings.

He is said to be refusing to cooperate with police and has been charged with one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress, two counts of killing an employee of the federal government and two counts of attempting to kill a federal employee. He is expected to face further charges.

Mr Loughner is said to have written a note which allegedly indicates he planned to assassinate Ms Giffords.

The shootings have reignited debate over right wing rhetoric and Sarah Palin has been drawn into the debate after naming Ms Giffords and other Democratic politicians as “targets” in last year’s mid-term elections.

It has been suggested that this helped create a vitriolic political atmosphere.

But some conservatives suggested that liberals were trying to exploit the tragedy for political gain

Conservative commentator Erick Erickson wrote on his blog Red State that liberals were “subtly and not so subtly pinning the blame . . . on the Tea Party movement, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, me, you, and everyone right of centre”.