Arizona Sheriff Blasts Rush Limbaugh for Spewing 'Irresponsible' Vitriol

Sheriff Tells ABC News' Diane Sawyer gunman fired 'as fast as he was capable.'

January 10, 2011, 2:10 PM

Jan. 10, 2011— -- The Arizona sheriff investigating the Tucson shooting that left U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded had harsh words today for those engaging in political rhetoric, calling conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh "irresponsible" for continuing the vitriol.

"The kind of rhetoric that flows from people like Rush Limbaugh, in my judgment he is irresponsible, uses partial information, sometimes wrong information," Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said today. "[Limbaugh] attacks people, angers them against government, angers them against elected officials and that kind of behavior in my opinion is not without consequences."

Limbaugh today railed against the media and Dupnik for trying to draw a link between the heated political climate and the shooting rampage, calling the sheriff a "fool." But Dupnik stood by his assertions.

"The vitriol affects the [unstable] personality that we are talking about," he said. "You can say, 'Oh no, it doesn't,' but my opinion is that it does."

Investigators have yet to determine what motivated 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, described by some as appearing to be mentally unstable, to allegedly open fire on the crowd outside the Tucson Safeway. However, so far there is no evidence that he has any ties to any political group

Dupnik took ABC News' Diane Sawyer on a tour today of the Safeway where six people were killed and 14 others, including Giffords, were injured.

Dupnik said eyewitnesses reported that the gun was about a foot away from Giffords' head when she was shot. The gunman then fired wildly and seemingly indiscriminately at the crowd of people.

"It's a matter of seconds," he said. "I'm told he was firing as fast he was capable of firing."

"He's trying to re-load when one of the individuals hits him over the head with a chair," he said, "and then people grab him and a lady grabs the magazine and at that point he is subdued."

Dupnik said he had been advised not to discuss Loughner's mental condition or his home life, but said, "I can tell you this is a somewhat dysfunctional family."

Many have reported that Loughner behaved bizarrely in his community college classes, some even going to school officials in fear of their safety.

"All I can tell you is that teachers and fellow students were concerned about his bizarre behavior in class to the point where some of him were physically afraid of him," Dupnik said. "He was acting in very weird fashion to the point where they had several incidents with him to the point where law enforcement at Pima College got involved and they decided to expel him. And they did."

Dupnik maintains that it was Loughner's own demons, not his state's relatively lenient gun control laws, that caused the tragedy on Saturday.

"He could have purchased this gun in any state. It's not just Arizona," said Dupnik, who owns a gun. "There are too many people who have temper problems who have troubled personalities. This isn't an unusual individual. There are hundreds just like him in our community. And in every other community."

Sheriff Calls for National Commission on 'Civility'

Dupnik said he'd like to see the federal government establish some kind of commission to deal with civility in the United States and make recommendations about how to get it back.

"I don't have a problem with heated arguments," he said. "As a matter of fact you are kind of getting a little heat out of me now, and it is because I am very angry at what has transpired."

"Not because it's Tucson, Arizona, but because of two beautiful people -- one almost dead and one assassinated -- that were personal friends of mine," he said, speaking of Giffords and U.S. District Judge John Roll, "and outstanding individuals and public servants."

A moment of silence was led today on Capitol Hill by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to pay tribute to the victims.

Police took Loughner into custody shortly after and charged him in the shooting. According to the sheriff, he has invoked his right to remain silent.

Dupnik has called Loughner a "loner" and "a very troubled individual."

A criminal complaint filed in federal court Sunday charges Loughner with one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress, two counts of killing an employee of the United States and two counts of intent to kill employees of the United States.

Doctors today said Giffords' condition remained unchanged, that her brain swelling had not increased and that she continued to be able to follow "basic commands."

Giffords is one of eight people still hospitalized following the shooting and one of two still in the intensive care unit.

Police say they have evidence found at Loughner's house to indicate the attack was planned, including a letter that included the words "Giffords," "I planned ahead" and "my assassination."