What’s the matter with Arizona?

Why the Giffords shooting isn’t out of character for the desert state


Having recently returned from Washington, where she was sworn into her third term in the House of Representatives, Gabrielle Giffords and her aides arrived at a Tucson Safeway to meet and greet her constituents on the morning of January 8, 2011. As one of Arizona’s more conservative Democrats and the only Jewish woman in the state’s history to serve in Congress, Giffords was a popular centrist politician in a state whose political representatives have often gone off the ideological deep end.

When the news spread that Jared Lee Loughner, 22, had allegedly turned a gun on the crowd, killing six and wounding 14, with Giffords as his intended target, it was greeted with shock and disbelief. How could America have fallen so far? Could the national debate have grown so vitriolic that people now turn to their guns to express their dissatisfaction with the order of things?

Perhaps such utter disbelief is a little naïve. After all, as Stephen Lemons of Phoenix News described Arizona, it is a place where “there are very real ideas at war with each other.”

Giffords herself represents Arizona’s conflicting political dichotomies. She is a hawkish “blue dog” Democrat in favour of tighter border security. She has defended SB 1070, Arizona’s controversial anti-immigration bill, calling it a cry for help from a state that was desperate for action on comprehensive immigration reform. Arizonan journalist Terry Greene Sterling explains that while she is by no means a polarizing figure in the state’s politics, “she walked an increasingly political tightrope in her sprawling southeastern Arizona district.” Her constituency, Sterling says, was a loose patchwork of “employees of military bases, Minutemen, retirees, borderland townsfolk, meth dealers, Tucson suburbanites and cattle ranchers.”

In Arizona, even law enforcement is tainted by the state’s divisive politics. Pima County Sherriff Clarence Dupnik, a friend of Giffords’s and an opponent of SB 1070, said in a press conference following the shooting that Arizona is a “Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.” In contrast, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of neighbouring Maricopa County is a militant opponent of illegal immigration. He has regularly rounded up Hispanic people suspected of being illegal immigrants and thrown them into Tent City, a Guantanamo-like detention centre that even he has described as a “concentration camp.” His harsh tactics have made him the subject of a Federal Grand Jury investigation for civil rights violations.

Gun ownership in Arizona is not as politically divisive an issue as it is in the rest of the United States. While critical of the state’s lax gun laws and draconian immigration policies, Sherriff Dupnik has also advised Pima residents to arm themselves, saying the Tucson Police Department doesn’t have the resources to protect residents. A strong supporter of the second amendment, Congresswoman Giffords also owns a gun and has described herself as “a pretty good shot.” Her weapon of choice is a Glock 9, the same make of gun that Loughner allegedly used to shoot her through the back of the head at point-blank range.

During the 2010 mid-term election campaign, Nevada Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle invoked a troubling and archaic interpretation of the constitutional right to bear arms. Angle’s supporters, she warned, were increasingly looking to “Second Amendment remedies” as a means to “turn this country around.” The rhetorical symbolism of the gun used by frontier state conservatives is not a recent trend. In 1961, Arizona’s native son and archconservative Barry Goldwater declared “we’re not going to get the Negro vote as a block in 1964 and 1968, so we ought to go hunting where the ducks are.”

In the meantime, Arizona has kept its law books clear of all but the most rudimentary restrictions on gun ownership. Last January, Governor Jan Brewer signed a law allowing Arizonans to carry concealed weapons without a permit. This law allowed Loughner, reportedly motivated by political passions, to buy a Glock 19 handgun almost a year later. He passed the instant background check despite a history of unstable behaviour (he had been suspended from Pima Community College due to “mental problems”), because his name never appeared on the National Instant Background Check System.

Decades of financial mismanagement have left Arizona teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, forcing it to make massive cuts to social services, including mental health counseling. It is now a state where vigilantism rules the border, and where guns are freely allowed in universities and the state legislature. Loughner’s crime may be no one’s fault but his own, but is it really that much of a surprise that it happened in Arizona?


What’s the matter with Arizona?

  1. "Why the Giffords shooting isn't out of character for the desert state"

    This kind of nonsense has been completely debunked already by the facts emerging about the shooter, who had no political affiliation, did not pay any attention to mass media or politics, and was mentally ill.

    I'm wondering if Maclean's would have printed an article like this after the Dawson College shooting. Well, they did print an article about Quebec corruption, not murder, and we know what kind of reaction that elicited. But I'm betting that they would not write an article implicating a province "whose political representatives have often gone off the ideological deep end".

    Why do we continue to see such absurd stories like this one, that refuse to report the news but instead reports the author's personal ideological beliefs regardless of any tenuous connection to reality? This is a real failing from modern media.

    • I learned a fair bit from this article. I learned a little bit about Representative Giffords politics and stance on gun ownership. I learned a little bit about the gun laws and culture in Arizona.

      Am I going to treat this as my only source of information on Arizona, Giffords, gun laws and the shooting? Of course not; one would have to be an idiot to that.

      Everyone has a bias about everything. Its not possible to conceal and furthmore not right to, as pretending to be “objective” about something when you aren’t is actually more deceiving as a journalist.

      Complaints about biased media coverage are so absolutely ridiculous I can’t believe how often they come up. We are saturated with news coverage about everything in the world. If you take a minute to look, you can find information from all angles about anything. The number of times I see conservatives and liberals claim the same article is biased against their view makes me laugh.

      Claiming a “bias” in an article is the most simplistic, basic, childish “analysis” that can be applied to any piece of writing. Time to grow up and start thinking a little more deeply about the things you read. Or stop reading and commenting on simplistic articles.

    • Apparently you have never lived in the USA, let alone in a southern border state like Arizona. These places are screaming for the government to do something about the immigration issues, and as a result of the government's inaction, have come up with some unbelievable immigrant laws. It's absurd that they did this, or felt they needed to do this, but they view it (unfortunately) as a step forward. That's why you have such loose gun laws and political extremism (in both directions). Spend a couple years down there listening to people and you will not be overly surprised that some of them are totally exasperated. When you finally figure out that it isn't Connecticut or Oregon, you will understand how Arizona has ended up where it is.

  2. When will we see an article entitled "what's the matter with Vermont" that addresses the fact that a Vermont federally elected politician is using a mass killing for fund-raising?

    I mean, how could one possibly go so low? What's the matter with Vermont?

  3. Firstly, it isn't clear to me how a heated political climate in Arizona might have contributed to Loughner's actions. Loughner's views are so far from the political mainstream that they defy left-right labels. He seems to draw a lot from David Wynn Jones (a guy who believes the government is controlling us by controlling grammar), while his reading list is heavy on revolutionaries (eg. Communist manifesto) and people suggesting "the world is constructed" (eg. the Republic of Plato, namely the cave allegory). Indeed, Loughner was registered as an independent.

    Secondly, Loughner doesn't seem to care a whit about the key issues that make Arizona unique (and I'll get to that point). Yes, immigration is a contentious issue in Arizona. What about Loughner's actions suggest an immigration connection? Err… nothing.

    Thirdly, Arizona is not actually a particularly polarized state. Nationally, in 2008 29% of voters in the presidential election identified as independents. In Arizona 30% were independents (36% in the 2010 senate race there). Arizona is LESS polarized than the average state.

    On gun control, you may have a stronger point, but even there, Arizona doesn't stand out. Yes, Arizona has weak gun laws… but so do most other states. If you look at the Brady campaign's state rankings, the vast majority of the country is on their crap list ( http://www.bradycampaign.org/stategunlaws/scoreca… ).

    At the end of the day, this is a very thin argument that sounds like it is flowing from a pre-existing narrative, and not a sober analysis of the facts.

    • You seem to have confused David Wynn Miller, the mind control theorist, with David Wynn Jones, a cinematographer. A lack of attention to detail undermines your credibility.

      • Are you sure your user-name isn't A_pedant?

      • Not really.

  4. Why the Giffords shooting isn't out of character for the desert state

    What. Unadulterated. Garbage.

    A lone psycho nut guns down many people as he surrenders to his bizarre fixation with a public figure. Not out of character for Arizona? You really want to stick with that?

    Are you trying to suggest that the occasional psycho nut that pulls off the same feat in other jurisdictions (news flash, Alex: it happens elsewhere) are ALSO characteristic of those places? Or are you comfortable singling out Arizona and its charged debate over illegal immigration (and assorted other observations) as having had something to do with this lone gunman's brutal attack?

    Your analysis is pretty sickening.

      • IF Arizona's murders were principally of the nutso shooting-spree variety, THEN there might have been some micro-whiff of a point to this piece.

  5. I agree with Alex. Arizona has a fanatical, violent, gun culture; where any bonehead can carry a loaded semi automatic firearm just because they can. The best part? it's as easy as getting a license plate.

    • Have you met Wikipedia yet? You might like to acquaint yourself with introductory lessons on:
      W. R. Myers High School shooting;
      Cumbria shootings;
      Port Arthur massacre (Australia);
      École Polytechnique massacre;
      Concordia University massacre;
      Dawson College shooting.

      Best I can tell, Arizona's character had nothing to do with any of 'em.

      • Would you raise your family there??

        • From the list above, if nutsos going postal with firearms is what we're going with, the good people of Montreal should hightail it down to Tucson post haste.

  6. A whole article based immediately on a lie and they call that responsible ' journalism'. There is not one shred of evidence and, indeed, his friends say quite the opposite is true that this nut doesn't have a political bone in his body. Doesn't matter to left wing 'jouirnalists' though. A wonderful state, most of the violence is from illegal immigrants who the writer would support along with the poiticians who destroyed the economy last but not least Napolitano. What is the matter with Arizona–far too many left wing zealots and illegals.

    • You're kind of dim aren't you?

  7. Lone psycho, that's right. In Arizona it's legal to conceal and carry a handgun to a political rally but it's illegal to carry a joint. Maybe all you dudes who want guns should chill a little and think about it., maybe lower your stress levels.

    • An excellent argument. For a defenseless law-abiding innocent citizenry.

  8. Could have happened anywhere like Toronto Ontario!

    • Except that our MPs are so powerless that there is no point to assassinating them.

  9. The criticisms above are rather shallow and seem to illustrate a genuine lack of intellectual examination of the recent shooting.