Giffords was one of several members of Congress who reported threats or vandalism in 2010 spurred by apparent anger over the passage of health care reform. Arizonans like Giffords also have been contending with a pitched debate over the passage of one of the country's toughest and most controversial immigration laws.
Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik pointed the finger of blame this weekend, at least in part, on the incendiary political rhetoric that he complained had become all too common.
"When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government -- the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," Dupnik said at a news conference Saturday night. "And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."
Dupnik added, "That may be free speech, but it's not without consequences."
Authorities continue to investigate the background of the suspect, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, whose anti-government ramblings and notes with the words "I planned ahead," "My assassination," and "Giffords," which law enforcement officials said they found scrawled on an envelope left in a safe in his house, offer clues about his motivation and mental state.
The United States Attorney in Arizona on Sunday filed three charges for the attempted murder of Giffords and two members of her staff, and two charges of murdering federal employees.
Sheriff Dupnik's remarks on Saturday eerily echo comments that Giffords, herself, made months ago, noting her presence on the Palin target list.
"We are on Sarah Palin's targeted list," Giffords said in an interview on MSNBC. "The way that she has it depicted has the cross hairs of the gun site over our district. When people do that, they have got to realize there are consequences to that action."
A member of Palin's political team, Rebecca Mansour, told conservative commentator Tammy Bruce, "We never imagined, it never occurred to us that anybody would consider it violent," referring to the list. Palin posted a note of condolence on her Facebook page shortly after Saturday's shooting.
In a post Sunday morning on his blog Red State, conservative commentator Erick Erickson criticized those who have been "subtly and not so subtly pinning the blame for the attempted assassination of the Congresswoman and the related shootings on the tea party movement, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, me, you, and everyone right of center," calling such a suggestion, "not just media malpractice, but a lie."
Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, also took issue with the notion that Loughner's actions had anything to do with the political climate that has recently been shaped in no small part by vocal members of groups like hers.
"I don't see how expressing your anger and frustration with government in a peaceful manner can be blamed for lone actions of one mentally disturbed person," Martin told ABC News. "Expressing your frustration and asking your elected officials to represent you the way you want to be represented is a far cry from violence."