The Note: Arizona Shooting Touches Off Fierce Debate Over Political Rhetoric

Jan 9, 2011 10:14am


Yesterday’s killing rampage in Arizona that left 6 dead and 20 wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who remains in critical condition at a Tucson hospital, immediately set off a debate about the tone of the country’s political discourse.

While the exact motives — political or otherwise — of the shooter, who killed a federal judge, a 9-year-old girl, Giffords’ director of community outreach and three others, remain unclear, the political implications are obvious.

The chatter began almost immediately. Giffords was one of several members of Congress who reported threats or vandalism in 2010 spurred by apparent anger over health care reform. Arizonans like Giffords also had to contend with a pitched debate over the passage of one of the country’s toughest and most controversial immigration laws.

Without citing a specific policy issue, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik pointed the finger of blame yesterday, at least in part, on an overheated political conversation taking place in the country.

“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 last 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 are still delving into the background of the suspect, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, but so far, there is little more to go on than a scattering of his anti-government ramblings on the Internet that seem incoherent at best.

But Sheriff Dupnik’s remarks yesterday eerily echo comments that Giffords, herself, made months ago, noting her presence on Sarah Palin's 20-member target list during the 2010 election that featured gun-related imagery.

"We are on Sarah Palin's targeted list," Giffords said in an interview on MSNBC. "The way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of the gunsight over our district. When people do that, they have got to realize there are consequences to that action."

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.”

But the discussion over the nature of political debate in this country is just beginning.

“We're living in a time that all of us should begin to take stock of how our words affect people,” Rep. James Clyburn said this morning, “especially those who aren't very stable.”

BOTTOM LINE: We can't solely blame heated political rhetoric for this senseless tragedy anymore than we can blame video games and "R" rated movies. We have a culture that not only condones, but often celebrates violence. Dozens — or more — people will be shot and killed today in cities across this country. We won't give those slain Americans nearly as much attention as they deserve.

That said the debate about what happened in Tucson has to go beyond the political and into the cultural. The fact that a nine year old girl who dreamed of being involved in public service was murdered should lead every parent, teacher and community leader to take a look at the kinds of language and images that are rife in our culture. This is a teachable moment and one in which everyone, not just political figures, need to take part.

TUNE IN: @jaketapper: An @ABC/Facebook digital special on the AZ shootings will be live-streaming on ABC 11am ET

BOEHNER’ WEIGHS IN. House Speaker John Boehner said in Ohio this morning that “an attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve.” He added, “No act, however heinous, must be able to stop us from our duties.” Speaker Boehner also directed House flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of Gabe Zimmerman, an aide to Rep. Giffords, who died in yesterday’s shootings.



* Police are on the lookout for a possible accomplice to the alleged shooter. Local TV stations posted a photo that appears to be from surveillance cameras, although it is not clear where the photo was taken.

* ABC’s Jason Ryan reports that according to several federal law enforcement officials: Loughner’s Glock 19- 9mm was legally purchased at the Sportsman’s Warehouse in Tucson, Arizona on November 30.

* Authorities have not said what Loughner’s motive could be, but have described the suspect as  “mentally unstable.” Loughner had tried to join the military, but was rejected. It is not clear why.

* As of 8am ET, a hospital spokesman tells ABC that Giffords remains in critical condition, sedated in the Intensive Care Unit. The hospital spokesperson said —  reports that she was awake and recognized her husband are not true.

How Did Giffords Survive? Dr. Richard Besser explains how living through a gunshot to the brain is possible. WATCH:

* The number of injured has been revised up to 20, six fatalities.

* All six victims have been identified. 9 Year-old Christina Taylor Greene was at the even with a neighbor. She was interested in politics and government and had come to meet her Congresswoman. Judge John Roll, 63, was a respected federal judge. Gabriel Zimmerman, 30, was a former social worker who was on Giffords’ staff. Also killed were Dorthy Murray, 76, Dorwin Stoddard, 76, and Pyllis Scheck, 79.

* FBI Director Robert Mueller is on the ground to personally coordinate the investigation. He is expected to appear with local authorities at 1PM ET press conference at the Pima County, Arizona Sherriff’s office.


WHO IS GABBY GIFFORDS? “Rep. Gabrielle Giffords rides motorcycles and married an astronaut at a wedding where everything had to be biodegradable. She is a Democrat who champions gun rights, lists fiscal discipline as one of her top issues and was re-elected in a conservative district when Republicans took control of the House,” ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf reports. “‘The federal debt is the single biggest threat to our economy and national security today,’ is emblazoned on her Congressional website. She wears the label centrist proudly. But she supported Nancy Pelosi and President Obama on their most important policy initiatives, like the health reform law and the climate change bill that passed the House of Representatives in 2009, but failed in the Senate. Her independent streak is more on display where immigration policy is concerned.”

Inside Giffords' Marriage to Astronaut Mark Kelly. The two wed one year after her election to Congress. WATCH:

ON TODAY’S “THIS WEEK.” Tune in to a special edition of “This Week with Christiane Amanpour” airing live from the scene of the Arizona shootings in Tucson. Or check out for video updates later today.


INTERN STAYS BY GIFFORDS’ SIDE. In an exclusive interview with "This Week" anchor Christiane Amanpour, Daniel Hernandez, the intern described by some as the hero who assisted Congresswoman Giffords immediately after the shooting, provided a first-hand account of the tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona.  "When I heard gunshots, my first instinct was to head toward the congresswoman to make sure that she was okay," Hernandez told Amanpour. "Once I saw that she was down, and there were more than one victim, I went ahead and started doing the limited triage that I could with what I had."   

More from the Arizona Republic: Daniel Hernandez had been U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' intern for five days when she was shot Saturday outside Tucson,” The Arizona Republic’s Jaimee Rose and Mary Jo Pitzl report. “The junior at the University of Arizona was helping check people in at the "Congress on Your Corner" event when he heard gunfire. He was about 30 feet from the congresswoman. When the shots began, he ran toward them. ‘I don't even know if the gunfire had stopped,’ he said Saturday night as he kept a vigil at the University Medical Center cafeteria, gathered near a TV watching tributes and getting updates. Using his hand, Hernandez applied pressure to the entry wound on her forehead. He pulled her into his lap, holding her upright against him so she wouldn't choke on her own blood. Giffords was conscious, but quiet.”



CONGRESSMAN UPS SECURITY. The staff of Democratic U.S. Rep. Andre Carson of Indianapolis increased security Saturday following the shooting of a colleague in Arizona,” the AP reports. “‘We have taken appropriate steps in light of the tragedy today in Arizona,’ said Justin Ohlemiller, Carson's district director. "We've been in touch with Homeland Security and will continue to do so as the situation continues to evolve." Protesters last march shouted racists slurs at Carson and a second black congressman, Democrat John Lewis of Georgia, near the Capitol in Washington as Congress debated the health care overhaul. Carson has no immediate plans to change any public appearances, but Ohlemiller declined to say whether the congressman was in Indianapolis or Washington, D.C.”

NOTED: ABC News Radio’s Aaron Katersky interviewed Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif, who was shot five times in 1978, traveling as an aide to Rep. Leo Ryan, who was killed in the shooting outside Jonestown. She told ABC that she's adamant — at least for her part — that security for members of congress not be increased at home."I certainly don't want to have to be required to have a police presence,” Speier said. “If that's the case, then it's time for me to no longer be a congress member."

HOUSE POSTPONES HEALTH CARE REPEAL. “House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., announced that the House will delay its efforts to repeal the health care law next week as well as other legislative business "so that we can take whatever actions may be necessary in light of today’s tragedy,” ABC’s John R. Parkinson reports. “Lawmakers voted last week to schedule debate and a vote on repealing health care reform on Wednesday. Repeal was expect to pass in the House, but chances were less likely in the Senate and the White House threatened to veto it.  “All legislation currently scheduled to be considered by the House of Representatives next week is being postponed so that we can take whatever actions may be necessary in light of today’s tragedy," Cantor said in a statement yesterday.

Giffords' Close Friend Speaks Out: Tilman Fertitta talks about Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' personal side. WATCH:


@PoliticsDaily: Suspect in Giffords Shooting Had a History of Troubling Behavior

@cbellantoni: RT @rollcall ICYMI, last month Rep. Cohen wrote Roll Call oped warning of danger to public officials

@JillDLawrence: Congress on Your Corner to become Congress on Your Computer? heartfelt @waltershapiroPD on future of democracy post-AZ

@DaviSusan: Heartbreaking. MT @meredithshiner: "She came in on a tragedy and she left on a tragedy." -father of 9 yo girl killed yesterday born on 9/11

@WestWingReport: President's Week Ahead: Mon.-French Pres. Sarkozy; Tue.-visits a#GE facility in Schenectady NY; Wed./Thu.-White House meetings;


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