How Arizona happened

Behind the assassination attempt that shocked America

Tragedy in tuscon

Tom Willett/Getty Images

In recent weeks, after she was one of only a handful of Democratic moderates to win re-election amid the great Republican party wave, congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who represents a conservative district in Arizona, told friends that bipartisanship in Washington was getting tougher and that middle-ground voices like hers were being drowned out by the extremes. A high-energy motorcycle aficionado whose youthful looks and sincere manner made her seem younger than her 40 years, she had received death threats, and her constituency office door had been vandalized, possibly shot in.

A former Fulbright scholar, Arizona state senator, and CEO of a tire business founded by her grandfather, Giffords was a rising star in the Democratic party, which she joined after switching from the Republicans in 1999, and was starting to garner national attention. Centrism has long been part of her politics. During the 2006 congressional campaign that sent her to Washington, she wrote a letter to constituents aimed at garnering the votes of independent voters and centrist Republicans. “Growing up, my mother was a Republican and my father was a Democrat—so I learned about ‘bipartisanship’ from an early age,” Giffords wrote. In the House, she was a member of the conservative Democrat “Blue Dog Coalition.” She sought out a middle ground on various issues: she was for tougher border security, but supported immigration reform that would provide undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. She voted for health care reform, but this month voted against Nancy Pelosi for minority leader.

Her dependence on conservative voters made her a prime political target for the Republicans. In March, Giffords’s district appeared on an online map posted by Sarah Palin of 20 congressional races where Democrats in previously Republican districts had voted for health care reform. They were marked with gun-sight crosshairs. On Twitter, Palin tweeted: “Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: “Don’t Retreat, Instead—RELOAD!” Later, Giffords’s Republican opponent, a former Marine named Jesse Kelly, advertised a “Target for Victory” campaign event at a shooting range. “Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office,” he asked his supporters. “Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.” The violent imagery worried Giffords during an MSNBC appearance: “We need to realize that the rhetoric, and the firing people up and?.?.?.?for example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s ‘targeted’ list, but the thing is, the way she has it depicted, we’re in the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize that there are consequences to that action.”

But for all that, Giffords was neither bitter nor combative. She did not raise her voice. Perhaps befitting the wife of an astronaut, her attitude was one of calm determination. One of those with whom she shared her concerns, congressional analyst Norman Ornstein, told Maclean’s they talked “all about the coarsening of the discourse, and the danger it poses to the republic.”

Danger, indeed. Last January, Sharron Angle, a Tea Party-backed candidate for the Senate in Nevada, told a radio host that “if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies,” and talked of “taking out” her opponent, Democratic Sen. Harry Reid (the Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms). Protesters attending town hall meetings on health care reform in 2009 had carried guns, and a man carrying an assault weapon got within a city block of a presidential speech in Phoenix. The tone continued to concern Giffords. On the night of Jan. 7, she sent an email to a friend, Kentucky’s departing Republican Secretary of State Trey Grayson, to congratulate him on his new position at Harvard University. “After you get settled, I would love to talk about what we can do to promote centrism and moderation,” she wrote in an email obtained by the Associated Press. “I am one of only 12 Dems left in a GOP district (the only woman) and think that we need to figure out how to tone our rhetoric and partisanship down.”

On the morning of Saturday, Jan. 8, the woman described by many as a voice of reason was gunned down during a meeting with constituents outside a supermarket in Tucson, in a horrific shooting that left her fighting for her life after suffering a bullet wound to her head. Six other people died in the attack, including nine-year-old Christina Green, a Grade 3 student born on Sept. 11, 2001, who had recently joined her school’s student council and was brought to the meeting by a neighbour so she could meet a real politician. John Roll, the state’s chief federal judge, was killed, as was Gifford’s director of outreach, Gabe Zimmerman, and three retirees. Another 13 people were injured. The alleged assailant, Jared Lee Loughner, 22, an erratic loner who had exhibited clear signs of mental illness that had terrified his teachers and classmates at Pima Community College, was captured on the scene while attempting to reload his Glock 9 mm semi-automatic pistol.

It was a shooting that shocked the country, and plunged the United States into a debate about America’s pervasive gun culture, how a deeply troubled individual could so easily fly under the radar and obtain a weapon, and whether the tragedy could transform the increasingly bitter and volatile discourse that has marred American politics—or only make it worse.

Jimmy Luu, receptionist at the Nails Arts salon in Tucson, thought the first shots were firecrackers. Then he heard screams and saw people running through the parking lot in front of the Safeway supermarket, where Giffords was holding one of her regular Congress on Your Corner events. He was afraid one of those running toward the salon was the shooter. His manager locked the door, and everyone ran into the back of the shop.

Fifty metres away, inside the Beyond Bread deli and bakeshop, milling customers and the clatter of plates drowned out the pistol shots. A woman burst through the doors, wide-eyed and hyperventilating. “I thought she was sick,” Elaine Navarro, an employee at the deli, told Maclean’s. “My manager said, ‘Get her a chair.’ ” Navarro fetched one. She asked the woman if she needed water. The woman didn’t answer. She gathered herself and shouted: “Call 911. There’s been a shooting at Safeway.”

The attack was both an attempted political assassination and a mass murder. Giffords was shot first, through the head at point-blank range. She is now in critical condition. The gunman, Loughner, then began shooting at everyone around her. Also among the dead were Phyllis Schneck, a great-grandmother, Dorothy Morris, 76, who died despite her husband’s attempts to shield her with his body, and Dorwin Stoddard, also 76, who threw himself on top of his wife, Mavy, when the shooting started. She was shot three times in the leg but survived.

It appears Loughner specifically targeted Giffords. The FBI says it has recovered from a safe in Loughner’s home an envelope with Giffords’s name written on it, and the words: “I planned ahead” and “my assassination.” Court papers say the envelope also contains “what appears to be Loughner’s signature.” Also in the safe was a letter addressed to Loughner from Giffords, in which she thanked him for attending a constituent event in 2007.

According to Bryce Tierney, a friend of Loughner’s from high school and college who has spoken to Mother Jones magazine, Loughner bore Giffords a grudge for years, one that intensified after he questioned her at a campaign event, asking: “What is government if words have no meaning?” Loughner was furious with Giffords’s answer and complained about it to Tierney. He would mention the congresswoman from time to time in the years that followed, though Tierney says his complaints weren’t based on any political philosophies. He would deride her as a “fake,” and say the government was “f–king us over.”

Tierney says Loughner had also become obsessed with an alternate reality of dreams that he believed a person could inhabit and control. Eventually he bragged that he had learned to fly. Loughner’s recent written postings on the Internet show a similar weak grasp on reality, along with burgeoning paranoia. He accuses the government of brainwashing people by controlling grammar and argues, incoherently, about the need for a new currency.

Those who crossed paths with him found his behaviour disturbing. He scared his classmates and teachers at the community college he attended until this fall, when he was suspended. He accused one instructor of “denying math” because he didn’t accept as accurate the random number Loughner gave in response to an algebra question. He dressed like a rapper one day and a hippie the next. He quizzed staff at the YMCA where he worked out about how they disinfected the bathroom doors. Once he sat in a bathroom for 30 minutes and emerged to ask what year it was.

It’s difficult to find order and lucidity in Loughner’s various statements. But one thing is tragically certain: somehow this troubled young man managed to walk into the Sportsman’s Warehouse in northern Tucson, buy a Glock 19 semi-automatic pistol and later, possibly through the Internet, large-capacity ammunition magazines that increase the Glock’s capacity from around 15 rounds to 31. A decade-long federal ban against such magazines expired in 2004 and was never renewed by Congress. Loughner was able to empty one magazine as he entered the annals of U.S. mass murderers, but was tackled by bystanders before he could continue his killing spree. “Why is it so easy to get a Glock at a store?” asked Elaine Richardson, a former Arizona state senator and a long-time friend of Gabrielle Giffords who served as a bridesmaid in her 2007 wedding to astronaut Mark Kelly. “We really need to look at our gun laws.” Not to mention America’s gun culture—and what it has wrought.

The numbers are staggering.

Since 1776, a total of 580,000 U.S. troops have been killed in action, including the carnage of the Civil War. In just four decades ending in 2008, the number of firearms deaths in the U.S. was 1.3 million.

According to the most recent annual data, in 2007 31,224 people died in the U.S. of gunshot wounds—12,632 of them murdered (other causes of death included suicide and unintentional deaths). A further 66,768 people survived gun injuries—44,466 of them sustained in an attack. Over the past three decades, on average about 20 mass shootings—defined as having at least four slain victims—have occurred annually in the United States, claiming nearly 100 lives each year. Some have been worse than others. March 2005: seven people dead in the Red Lake, Minn., massacre. April 2007: 32 killed in the Virginia Tech massacre. March 2009: 10 people killed in the Geneva County massacre in Alabama. April 2009: Binghamton, New York, 14 dead.

The U.S. has an estimated 283 million guns in civilian hands: approximately one-quarter of American adults own a licensed gun.

In 1968, in a decade that saw the assassinations of president John F. Kennedy, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and senator Robert Kennedy, Congress enacted the Gun Control Act, which identified categories of individuals considered too high-risk to own a gun. On Nov. 30, 1993, the act was updated when president Bill Clinton signed the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act, named after James Brady, the aide who was injured during the 1981 attempted assassination of president Ronald Reagan. It mandates a federal background check, for such things as serious criminal convictions or documented mental illness, on any person who attempts to purchase a firearm from a licensed firearms distributor. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, since the Brady Act went into effect in 1994 through Dec. 31, 2009, almost 108 million applications for firearms transfers or permits were subject to background checks. More than 1.9 million applications were denied. In 2009, 1.4 per cent of the 10.8 million applications for firearms transfers or permits were denied by the FBI (67,000) or by state and local agencies (83,000).

However, the perfunctory background checks only apply for federally licensed gun dealers. And in Loughner’s case, though many people worried about his behaviour, those concerns appear not to have been shared publicly. In 2008, Loughner tried to join the military and was rejected because of a failed drug test (marijuana), but the army kept that private. In 2007, Loughner was arrested for possessing drug paraphernalia, but the charge was dismissed after he completed a drug diversion program, leaving him with a clean record. Pima Community College apparently shared its concerns about Loughner only with his parents. So, with no public marks against him, Loughner passed a federal background check and bought his Glock on Nov. 30.

(Unlicensed gun exchanges between private parties, meanwhile, are left to the discretion of the state. “In the United States, the only place that a background check is required by federal law is when a licence is required by the federal government,” says Becca Knox, director of research for the Brady Campaign, an organization that lobbies for tougher gun laws. “I can sell a gun legally to my neighbour. I don’t have a licence, I’m selling to another person without a licence, I just sell the gun, there’s no paperwork required.” Nowhere is this legislative loophole more exploited than at gun shows, where in many states people can trade firearms without licences.)

Arizona’s patchwork of gun laws is especially lax. And Arizonans’ affinity for firearms stretches far back. The 1910 state constitution reads: “The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself or the state shall not be impaired,” although it does add that “nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing individuals or corporations to organize, maintain, or employ an armed body of men.” Any law-abiding Arizonan older than 18 is permitted to buy or possess a firearm (to buy a handgun from a federal licensee, as per federal law, the purchaser must be 21). In Arizona, other than the Brady background check, no registration is necessary to buy a firearm.

As long as an Arizonan is not drinking, they can carry a firearm in bars. As long as it’s not loaded and the bearer remains in their vehicle, Arizonans can possess a concealed weapon on school grounds. Guns are allowed in the state Capitol and other public buildings. Arizona’s gun laws were relaxed further last year when Gov. Jan Brewer signed a National Rifle Association-backed bill repealing a state law that required gun owners to have a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Now, with the Tucson shooting, the state’s lax regulations have attracted national attention, even as the inevitable argument over gun control heats up across America. It is a sadly familiar debate. “The gun laws in Arizona are among the weakest in the country and we saw some of the consequences of that in the shooting,” said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign, in a video released on his website. “We make it too easy for dangerous people to get guns in this country; we have too few laws in the books restricting dangerous and irresponsible people from getting guns. And when we see the gun lobby pushing more guns for more people and more places more of the time, we’re only asking for more problems.”

Nonsense, responded gun lobbyists—a better armed citizenry is the answer, not a bigger problem. “It didn’t sound like there was anybody able to take action,” said Larry Pratt of the Tucson shooting. Pratt, who for 26 years has been the executive director of Gun Owners of America, a national pro-gun organization of 300,000, added: “From the get-go, it appeared there was not an armed citizen that was able to resist, and as it turns out, that was the sad fact of it. The event took 10 to 12 seconds and the police got there in 10 to 12 minutes. Seems to me those two numbers explain why an armed people is important if we’re going to control the criminal element.”

Arizonans certainly seem to agree. In the wake of the Tucson shooting, sales of Glock handguns, at about US$500 each, surged in the state, with some buyers worried about the possibility of new gun control laws. Ironically, Giffords, a native Arizonan, was herself a supporter of gun rights. Once, when asked about the vandalization of her office, she quipped, “I have a Glock 9 mm and I’m a pretty good shot.”

Such was the enviroNment in which Loughner lived. Now, along with the newly intensified debate over firearms, the quieter multi-decade arguments over American law and policy toward the mentally ill is also beginning to revive. Psychological problems are a huge problem in the U.S.: a 2004 study by the World Health Organization found that 26 per cent of Americans had some form of mental disorder, including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. In Loughner’s case, psychiatrists who have commented have no apparent doubt that he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, though no one yet knows if he has ever received a formal diagnosis. Tierney told Mother Jones magazine that the shooter had been a “normal kid” in early adolescence, developing strange preoccupations and disordered thinking only in his junior and senior years of high school—the classic age pattern of schizophrenia.

Loughner did not, to say the least, fit the “never thought he was capable of this” stereotype. Not only was his time at Pima Community College (from summer 2005 to fall 2010) marked by disruptive behaviour, he had run-ins with campus police, and aimed inappropriate remarks at women. And as well as his trail of bizarre, confusing Internet forum postings, Loughner’s ever-dwindling number of friends grew concerned last spring when he began to display an interest in firearms.

One classmate, Lynda Sorenson, showed the Washington Post emails she had written about Loughner last year: on June 14, she told a friend, “We have a mentally unstable person in the class that scares the living crap out of me. He is one of those whose picture you see on the news, after he has come into class with an automatic weapon.” Remarkably, Loughner was deemed too weird even for a UFO conspiracy website, AboveTop­Secret.com, where one fellow commenter told him, “Seek help before you hurt yourself or others or start taking your medications again, please.”

Even if Loughner had been inclined to reach out for aid, though, he may have found it difficult to get. The trend toward deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, often said to have begun with the discovery of chlorpromazine in the 1950s, is still marching on in Arizona, according to leading schizophrenia specialist and “treatment advocate” E. Fuller Torrey. Arizona does have strong laws allowing families to coerce individuals into in-patient care if they represent a danger to themselves or others. What it doesn’t have, in a time of austerity, are the resources. Torrey estimates that the state has 5.9 psychiatric beds per 100,000 people—only Nevada has fewer—and that of the 50,000 or so schizophrenia sufferers in the state, 25,000 are untreated at any given moment.

Torrey may be underestimating the problem. Mental health staff in Pima County, whose seat is Tucson, told the Huffington Post that they had been hit particularly hard by state budget cuts necessitated by Arizona’s ongoing financial crisis. Of the 15,000 people receiving public mental health services in the county at the beginning of 2010, HuffPo reported, 3,000 had been turfed because they were not “actively displaying symptoms”; another 3,800 lost everything but basic insurance coverage for generic medications because they were found to be living above the federal poverty line.

Promoters of “de-stigmatization” of the mentally ill are quick to point out that schizophrenia is not a “cause” of or an “explanation” for violence. In the sense in which the word “cause” is normally used in social science, however, this is a curious claim. Schizophrenics are no more dangerous to the public peace than anyone else—if they take their medications regularly and avoid substance abuse. Unfortunately, they are not, considered as a group, good at accomplishing either thing without onerous levels of supervision; and because latent schizophrenia is still all but impossible to diagnose, every schizophrenic person will go through an initial phase of psychotic flowering during which he is not yet being treated. This may, indeed, have been Loughner’s predicament. Torrey, who is perhaps literally the last person on Earth who could be accused of indifference or cruelty to schizophrenia sufferers, offers the shocking estimate that “individuals with severe mental illnesses are probably responsible for approximately 10 per cent of homicides in the United States.”

Loughner’s anti-government ramblings and belief that currency must be backed by gold or silver do resonate with the outer fringes of the extreme right and some militia movements. But no evidence has emerged to suggest that Loughner belonged to or even felt affinity with any of these movements. One friend referred to him as a “left-wing pothead.” But the fact that he tried to kill a politician, and that his attack comes during a time of overheated political rhetoric from both politicians and pundits, has led many to wonder if anti-government rage might have contributed to the killings here on Saturday.

Tucson’s Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik suggested as much, singling out his home state of Arizona, where debate and rancour over immigration and President Barack Obama’s health care reforms have been particularly intense. “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,” he told reporters on Saturday. “And unfortunately Arizona has become, I think, sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

Giffords, a Democrat in a state that leans Republican, has been at the centre of this political storm. At a public event in 2009, a protester waving a “Don’t Tread on Me” sign showed up with a holstered gun, which fell to the pavement in front of Giffords. Palin targeted her. Despite this, Giffords was re-elected in November, narrowly defeating a Tea Party-backed candidate. But it was a tough campaign, and one, says a colleague, whose tone bothered her.

“The last time I saw her, she and I were in front of a grocery store here in Tucson, ringing a bell for the Salvation Army,” Bob Walkup, the Republican mayor of Tucson, told Maclean’s. “What you do is you put on a funny little hat and you stand there and you greet people. While we’re doing this, we were talking about how nice it is that we still have the chance to interface with people and say ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Have a great holiday.’ And I know she was comfortable with that. But she was still talking about her campaign and how difficult her campaign was. It was an issue for her.”

It’s an issue, too, for many who came to vigils in Tucson for Giffords and other victims of the shooting. “Stop the ugly violent rhetoric,” read one sign place amongst a carpet of candles and flowers outside Giffords’s district office. “When someone is that mentally unstable, it doesn’t take much to push somebody like that over the line,” James Reading, a construction worker, told Maclean’s at another vigil outside Tucson’s University Medical Center, where Giffords and other victims of the shooting are being treated. “Preaching the hate and the disrespect and the constant calling people names—socialist this or that—it’s ridiculous. Someone that disturbed doesn’t need a whole lot to set himself off. He’s looking for someone to go off on. I wish I could say I was surprised it happened. But I thought it was going to happen a long time ago.”

Former state senator Richardson concurs. “Did you listen to what the sheriff said? I agree with everything he said,” she told Maclean’s. Ten years ago, she says, she and Giffords and several other politicians would regularly go out for dinner Monday nights in Phoenix, the state capital, where they worked during the week. Both Giffords and Richardson are Democrats, but their weekly dinners usually included at least one Republican. Such casual fraternization reflected cross-party co-operation that she says no longer exists. “I just think the political climate has been getting worse and worse,” she says. “I don’t know that you can find a moderate in the legislature today. You don’t have the congeniality, the camaraderie that we really enjoyed.”

Richardson doesn’t draw a direct link between heated political rhetoric and Loughner’s attempted assassination of Giffords, but she describes it as a contributing factor. “We really need to look at our mental health system,” she says. “If you’re not educating your people the way they need to be educated, and they listen to this rhetoric going on television about how we’ve got to get this person, or how this person is on a hit list, and your gun is accessible, what do we expect?”

As Maclean’s went to press, doctors in Tucson announced that Giffords, who miraculously had been able to communicate with doctors and others after the shooting by squeezing their hands, was “holding her own.” And in Tucson and elsewhere, the questioning continued. Paul Cunningham, a Tucson Democratic councilman and friend of Giffords, said Sarah Palin should feel guilty for placing crosshairs on Giffords’s district—but only because it was foolish and inappropriate, not because it had anything to do with the weekend’s mass murder.

“This is a disturbing man,” he said of Loughner. “This is the clock-tower guy in Texas. This was not a politically motivated assassination more than it’s a very disturbed person getting pushed over the edge, and what the trigger is is anybody’s guess.” Cunningham is similarly unsure that stricter gun control might have averted this tragedy. “There’s really no pragmatic solutions. It’s really hard to go, ‘Well, the guy’s mentally ill enough not to have a gun?’ You don’t know that. The kid got rejected by the army. People thought he could be potentially dangerous. Does that infringe on his Second Amendment rights? I don’t know. I’d love to be able to say that the wacko with the gun is going to get stopped. But I think as we’ve seen in America time and again, every couple of years, it happens.”

True. But wackos shooting politicians is rare, and inevitably means that assigning blame will be driven by politics as well. That does not sit well with Republican Andy Tobin, Arizona House majority leader. Regarding the opposition, he told Maclean’s that, “Quite frankly, we agree more than we disagree, and where we don’t agree we’re not going to cower from that conversation. I would caution those who are drawing conclusions to take some time to let our state heal and let us get all the facts. And those who are trying to make political hay over a tragic situation, especially a little girl, I would say shame on you to assume that too much conversation has led to this. These are difficult times, and lawmakers are not going to shy away from the big issues of the day. Those issues are the drift of our nation to more government and less freedom.”

Asked if political debate in America is no longer a conversation but a shouting match, Tobin responded: “It’s all about who shoots first, if you pardon the expression. Some have said that now Republicans can sit on the back of the bus. Do we have to go over the history of who said what to who?”

Indeed, while Democrats have blamed Republicans for their violent imagery, they have not been innocent either. Voices on the left had compared president George W. Bush to Hitler. And President Obama himself, who had campaigned on uniting “red” and “blue” America, has used loaded language. At a fundraiser in Philadelphia in June 2008, he said he was tough enough to take on Republican attacks. “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” Obama said. “Because from what I understand, folks in Philly like a good brawl. I’ve seen Eagles fans.”

But Saturday’s tragedy jolted some lawmakers into introspection. Lamar Alexander, a Republican senator from Tennessee, told CNN’s State of the Union, “We ought to tone it down, treat each other with great respect, respect each other’s ideas, and even on difficult issues like immigration or taxes or health care law, do our best not to inflame passions.” A Democratic senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin, said members of Congress need to keep political discussion at a “higher level” and not “descend into even these images of violence or violent reaction.”

Some lawmakers went so far as to call for limits on speech. South Carolina congressman James Clyburn, the third most senior Democrat in Congress, urged a return to the Fairness Doctrine—a 1949 policy that required licensed broadcasters to cover controversial public issues in a manner deemed equitable and balanced by the Federal Communications Commission (Reagan abolished the policy in 1987). “Free speech is as free speech does,” Clyburn said, according to Charleston’s Post and Courier newspaper. “You cannot yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre and call it free speech, and some of what I hear, and is being called free speech, is worse than that.”

Others recoiled at the idea that speech causes violence. The comedian Jon Stewart, who last year hosted a “Rally to Restore Sanity” on the National Mall that demonstrated against overheated political rhetoric, stopped short of blaming it for the shooting. On Monday’s Daily Show, he said, “I wouldn’t blame our political rhetoric any more than I would blame heavy metal music for Columbine,” referring to the 1999 massacre at a Colorado high school that left 12 innocent students and one teacher dead. But Stewart added that political discourse should be more responsible. “It would be really nice if the ramblings of crazy people didn’t in any way resemble how we actually talk to each other on TV,” he said.

There were indications that lawmakers were becoming more careful in their choice of words, including scrutiny of the title of the Republicans’ legislation that would repeal the Obama health care law: the Repeal the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act. After lawmakers held a moment of silence in honour of the Tucson shooting’s victims in front of the U.S. Capitol on Monday, the incoming chairman of the energy and commerce committee, Republican Fred Upton of Michigan, was asked by reporters whether the title of the bill should be changed. “Um, it’s a new question,” Upton said. “It’s, you know, we’ll see.”

And there were other signs that the most militant political rhetoric was becoming unpalatable. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, touted as a potential presidential candidate rival to Sarah Palin, distanced himself from her map with the gun-sights symbols. “It wouldn’t have been my style to put the crosshairs on there,” Pawlenty said Tuesday on ABC’s Good Morning America. And, he told the New York Times, “I wouldn’t have done that.”

Elsewhere, though, the airwaves remained hot. Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh continued to lash out at the political left. “In continuing this template and narrative that the Tea Party and Sarah Palin, that talk radio and Fox News, are inspiring violence, they forget that, in the process of so doing, they are attacking what is now a majority of America,” Limbaugh said. “They are accusing a majority of Americans of being accomplices to murder.”

Congressional analyst Ornstein, who had discussed such rhetoric with Giffords, is doubtful that the tragedy would lead to any lasting changes in gun laws, or laws dealing with the mentally ill, or even to the political tone. “I do think this will change the discourse in the short run, toning down the worst excesses,” he told Maclean’s. “And that might last for a few months at the outside.”


How Arizona happened

  1. The Editors of this magazine are absolute idiots some days! Surely the authors of this journalism didn't write the by-line?

    "Behind the assassination ATTEMPT that shocked America."

    Come on now folks! This is a firing crime. There's news and then there's packaging. The person who zipped up this bag needs to feel the cattle prod…

  2. Newsflash: Loughner assassinated a Judge. OK folks? No-one has evidence yet to say whether his target was one or TWO public figures? The journalism is PERHAPS at fault for the lax by-line because of this line: "John Roll, the state's chief federal judge, was KILLED". While that line supports the thesis that Loughner's crime was "an attack was BOTH an atempted assassination AND a mass murder". This is substandard writing and quite frankly in this information age it's unacceptable. And that's why I didn't complete reading this article past the first page view online….

    • sounds like an approach a reasonable adult would take…

    • You sound angry. I have a suggestion, click the little 'X' in the upper right hand corner of your screen. Problem solved.

      Oh, maybe I should point out your excellent grammar skill(z): "And that's why I didn't complete reading this article past the first page view online…. "

      Have a nice day.

  3. When Sarah Palin's church was set ablaze, it was widely reported as arson. When the people were killed in Tucson, it was widely blamed on Sarah Palin. The punditry in this country is kind of asymmetrical, if you get my drift (I'm an American).

    They can't un-ring the bell. They stated the political motives. Now they want to quickly make laws restricting certain liberties based on a misrepresentation of the acts of an insane man. All the other talk now looks like rationalization confirming their bias. Too bad, maybe some good regarding mental health could have come from this. But the last paragraph of the article probably sums it up.

    As a sidelight, the Pima County Sheriff's Department recently arrested a liberal activist (wounded in the shooting) for threatening a Tea Party spokesperson. As far as I know, the Sheriff has not blamed the media, and the activist is being held for psychological evaluation. I wonder how the Sheriff got that idea to do that.

    • he got the idea to do that because that guy made what most reasonable people believe to be a death threat against a specific individual, with countless witnesses. And since the guy had just been shot, he may well have been subsequently ranting like a crazy person a/k/a demonstrating possible post traumatic stress disorder. time for a psych eval.

      Loughner, by contrast, never directly threatened anyone (as far as anyone knew, at least according to what's come out so far). He showed overt suicidality in September on Myspace, but apparently no one was reading it. He wrote about killing "pigs" in December, and "see you on national TV!", but again no one was reading. Had either the college or his parents taken the step of petitioning for a mandatory eval (which could have led to court mandated outpatient treatment, even if he didn't meet the standards for involuntary hospitalization), maybe, just maybe someone would have been looking into what he was up to online. A blogger googled him and got his myspace within hours of the shooting. Yet he's living with his parents, is unable to function in a work environment, unable to function in a school environment, at this point genuinely disabled, he has zero social life, spouts all this nonsense, and the don't even think to look him up online. The story of the shooting is not in his delusional rants, but in his "normal" statements that were interspersed with the gibberish. His illness–whatever it proves to be–caused the failure, the isolation, the alienation and resentment that led him to want to "go out with a bang" and make others pay for it. It's his NON-delusional postings that show why he wanted to kill. Between what he posted in the spring in the forums, and his myspace in Sept-Dec, it was a clear escalation of suicidality and intended criminality. These were what he rationally concluded as his life options back in the spring. The third options was "career/job," meanwhile he was itemizing 65+ fruitless job applications, so there went option #3. He was really quite rational about it. But again, no one was reading.

    • My testicles are asymmetric.

      Republicans and their idiotic rhetoric caused this shooting. Liberals need to grow a pair call it as it is. If the shoe was on the other foot, you would not expect conservatives to be this benevolent.

      • A lot of press sources, including this article, refer to the liberal rhetoric that infuriates conservatives and contributes to the fouled political atmosphere in the US. And yet there still is no evidence that Loughner was interested in the Liberal-Conservative rhetoric or that it affected him in any way. His political opinions were a bizarre as the rest of his ideas.

        Public institutions require leaders who are committed to public safety on-and-off their premises. After Columbine, after Virginia Tech, after Fort Hood, administrators and security offices cannot give people like Loughner a pass.

      • There is no evidence, not that a liberal would be acquainted with the meaning of the word that Loughren had any political intent. Such political leanings as he had in his life were of the leftist persuasion e.g. a friend described him as a liberal pothead, he was a registered Democrat until he switched to Independent, his favorite reading included the communist manifesto. There was also some personal contact with Congresswoman Giffords that may have left Loughren with a personal grudge in his disordered mind.

        What does it say about the Left that it a) tried to transform the square peg lefty/crazy person/killer into a conservative? When that failed, they switched to Plan b) blaming his crime on prominent conservatives and conservatives in general. The same people who were absolutely deranged in their criticism of the Bush administration had the nerve to lecture critics of the Obama administration on civility! A clear example of the Left's hypocrisy "civility for thee, not me" is Democrat Senator Cohen's disgusting comparison of Obamacare opponents to Nazis and the Holocaust that he had the nerve to make AFTER his President's call for civility in discourse! Think that might inspire a wingnut to violence?

  4. The shooter was not politically motivated, just a nut. The hateful rhetoric coming from the media is the only 'political' story in this whole incident, leftists will use any excuse to attack anyone who disagrees with them without regard for the real victims, it's pathetic and disgusting.

  5. Portions of this article seem to suggest that a major portion of the gun violence could be sorted out by offerring adequate mental health services and restricting guns sales to disordered individuals. Then it goes on to say that about 25% of Americans have some sort of mental disorder and "offers the shocking estimate that “individuals with mental illnesses are probably responsible for approximately 10 per cent of homicides in the United States". Assuming these numbers are correct, simple math tells us that 90% of homicides are committed by healthy individuals who represent only 75% of the population. So the real focus here should be on how healthy people use or abuse firearms, rather than the individuals who happen to have mental disorders. In other words mentally disordered people are not responsible for gun violence out of proportion to their percentage of the population. Guns are the problem not mentally disturbed people.

    • I didn't go back to look at the numbers, but I seem to recall the author saying roughly one-third of firearm deaths in the US are suicides. Is suicide proof of mental imbalance?

    • Most gun deaths in the USA are perpetrated during crimes, the largest number black on black, second largest number black on white crime. (See John Lott's books for documentation). If you doubt this, look at the gun deaths in Toronto, in the relatively gun free zone of Canada. The overwhelming majority of both perpetrators and victims are black, involved in gangs, guns, drugs. Want to touch that with a ten foot pole?

      • Please read the article. It says "According to the most recent annual data, in 2007 31,224 people died in the U.S. of gunshot wounds—12,632 of them murdered (other causes of death included suicide and unintentional deaths)." This directly contradicts your statement that most gun death in the USA are perpetrated during crimes, unless you consider suicide a crime. You might be referring to homicides, but even then you would be incorrect, since so called crimes of passion such as murdering your wife during an arguement are not related to the criminal activity you are describing.

        I agree that gangs and drugs are violent and involve the use of guns, but in our society this source of death by guns is not the majority. The majority of deaths by guns in Canada have no connection to the criminal element and are committed using legally owned guns. The connection you are trying to make to black people and guns does not exist in the official statistics, but only in propaganda you might receive from the Harper conservatives.

  6. "Nonsense, responded gun lobbyists—a better armed citizenry is the answer, not a bigger problem. 'It didn't sound like there was anybody able to take action,' said Larry Pratt of the Tucson shooting."

    Pratt might want to get better informed; and it would be great if journalists would correct this kind of ignorant opinion if they're going to publish it. There WAS a wannabe vigilante on the scene, and by his own admission, he NEARLY SHOT THE WRONG GUY. In a split second decision he refrained from shooting and ended up with, again, the WRONG GUY, up against a wall. He nearly had shot the person who had gotten the gun away from Loughner. Don't remember his name, but it was reported and he was interviewed (though surprisingly, it got little coverage). That's all we need, a parking lot full of self important testosterone impaired nuts crossfiring so by the time the cops get there, nobody even knows who the real problem is.

    • His name was Zamudio and he was one of the two men who physically subdued Loughner. When asked why he didn't shoot Loughner, he replied that it wasn't necessary. That isn't a crazed response. It is the perfect response.

      He drew a firearm as he lay on top of Loughner, because a bystander made the mistake of picking up Loughner's firearm. Zamudio did not know whether this was another shooter. There was nothing about his behavior that suggested that he was a vigilante. If I'm not mistaken, President Obama mentioned him at Arizona University.

      [BTW. NEVER pick up a firearm at the scene of a shooting. If you wish to control it, put your foot on it..]

    • I saw the interview. He followed a representative of the NRA who was trying to make the case that is everyone had a gun, the shooter would have been stopped earlier. I can't believe anyone who doesn't see the potential for disaster with this kind of thinking.

    • He put his hand on his holster. That is not almost 'shooting the wrong guy'.

      For me, I am just fine with the idea of liberals shooting each other. I am not fine with them redefining 'civility' as censorship, which is exactly what these cretins are trying to do.

  7. I feel bad for Congresswoman Giffords and all the people were killed and injured. All the arguing here is really pointless when the issue at hand is innocent people were hurt. Bickering is a waste of human time and emotions. Do something positive instead.

  8. This was the greatest example of a political rorchach test one could imagine.

    A completely insane man, who wasn't even operating on assumptions of our sane world (let alone fine political distinctions), committed a horrid act from which the world could fill in the blanks, based not on facts, but on their own biases, predispositions, and the very political hatred being decried as causing this.

    The political hatred focused on Palin in the last year by the left was a sight to behold.

    That this murder was pinned on her by the deranged left was not surprising.

    A new low, yes.

    Surprising, no.

  9. So we are now in a world,

    where pinning a murder on one's political foes without any evidence whatsoever (and in fact much evidence which positively contradicts the allegation),

    is the new "civility" which we should all strive for.

    A new "civility" where conservative's comments are policed to the umpteenth degree, and spurious correlations are sought to be drawn, while the "correct" side of the debate is left with free reign, such that Obama suggesting a "gun" be brought to a "knife fight" with the left's political opponents, is put aside as harmless rhetoric.

    • Hypocrisy is the Left's oxygen. Hard on the heels of the Dem President who has done nothing but heightened political tensions with his rhetoric (e.g. calling Republicans the enemy while addressing a Hispanic audience) belatedly calling for civility after Tuscon, a Dem senator (Cohen) has just likened Republican opposition to Obamacare to Nazis and the Holocaust. Gee, no criticism from his fearless leader for inciting hate. Oh, that's right. Obama and his Dem thugs bring a gun to the fight, while Republicans are supposed to bring one sided civility.

  10. Robert Brady is calling for a new law against hate rhetoric which, combined with revamping gun laws, will help make America to become a safer place. Though I hate guns I respect the rights of those who wish to own them. So more restrictions instead of a total ban sounds fair to me (especially considering the 1.3 million US citizens who have died from gunshots compared to half a million Americans soldiers killed back to and including the Civil war!). As for free speech lovers, I am one, but I cannot yell fire in a theater, I cannot present 'obscene' material in public, etc. I accept limitations on my freedom as part of my social contract as a citizen in a nation. As a negative liberalist, I think that government best that governs the least. That said, laws are necessary, and we need a few more. Perhaps we can relax a few other laws as a way to balance the equation, just to appease the Republican types :) I am still incensed at Tom Flanagan's supposedly tongue-in-cheek call for the assassination of Assange, and hope the RCMP soon complete their investigation and conclude he exceeded his rights to free speech. And Brady will get my support as a Canadian concerned about the state of American politics. I do want want the best of US politicians running for cover (even if only at the behest of their spouses http://www.rollcall.com/news/-202271-1.html) leaving office to pursue what are likely to be better paying jobs in the private sector. That will leave the political scene in a sad state.

  11. Was this shooting something that really “shocked the country?” Doubtfully so.
    Until the American people are willing to change their pro-gun culture, gun violence will be an everyday occurrence in the USA and the mayhem will continue.

  12. The lefty media and the left in general love to spread the hate and continue to polarize political debate. The same lefty media types and their followers who blamed Palin for the massacre, then attacked her for not answering to the scurrilous unfounded, preposterous accusations, than turn around and attack her for speaking out against the attacks on her integrity. It seems the left are more concerned with witch hunts and ideological public lynchings than they are about the victims, and see a tragedy like this as an opportunity to spew their warped agenda. Loughner was a liberal pot head who hated Christians, laughed at aborted babies, never listened to talk radio, hated George Bush and cited "Mein Kampf" and the Communist manifesto as his favourite reading material. Is that why Loughner committed this brutal, vicious act ? Because he's a brain washed lefty? NO! All indications point to a seriously deranged, mentally ill individual who was completely irrational and disturbed. The lefty media continue their narrative of hate and intolerance against Palin, and Conservatives in general, while willfully ignoring the facts as they become available. The lefty media do more to polarize political discourse and divide and isolate the public than any other source out there. How are nations producing such low life, sick, deranged minds within the media is almost incomprehensible. The lefty media won't be happy until they incite people to tear each others throats out.

  13. Another lefty inventing a myth that "right-wing" rhetoric was involved, even if indirectly, in the AZ shooting, on no better grounds than the use of a "in our gunsights" metaphor common to most political discourse. Currently the union opposing building a Walmart in New York is promoting a demonstration by posting the address of the owner covered by–wait for it–a gunsight.

    This is from the left media which campaigned against Bush-Hitler and where many liberal writers and talk radio hosts mused publicly on how nice it would be if Bush, Cheney and Limbaugh were to die.
    Of course, since the Left has a monopoly on truth and virtue, how can they be wrong?

    • Actually, the Left made a movie debuted at the Toronto Film Festival of their wish fulfilment with George Bush assassinated, using real footage of the real president. Just imagine the media din if someone had made such a movie using Obama footage for the full measure of the Left's hypocrisy. They cross the line into hatred constantly and then have the chutzpah to project their own derangement onto the right.

  14. apparently canadians havd as many dumb right wing ignorants as america does

    • stupid is as stupid does

    • apparently (sic) canadians (sic) havd (sic) as many dumb left wing dicks as america does
      to whom punctuation, capitalization and spelling are strangers.

  15. Thanks for you're thoughtful contribution to the debate, dick,weed. The reason of unreason, brought to you by the dickweeds on the left.

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