By: Ayensa Millan
Reflecting on the Tucson tragedy of January 8, 2011, two questions have come to the fore and should be discussed. First, has the divisiveness and heated rhetoric of American politics contributed to this incident? And, second, should we be considering changes to our gun laws?
Within the last decade, politics in the United States have been brewing anger and division in our communities. This division has created a huge partisan divide and is preventing government from moving forward and repairing the economic and social issues facing our nation. Though the virus of extreme partisanship has afflicted the nation generally, in comparison, Arizona’s contagion has reached epidemic proportions.
As unfortunate and heartbreaking as the Tucson shooting was, it came to no surprise to many Arizonans. While it is unknown what sparked a troubled and unsettled young Jared Lee Loughner, the political atmosphere in Arizona has been richly primed with incendiary rhetoric for years. Arizona has long been known for its controversial legislation and many of those laws appear to have been created for no reason other than to antagonize, stir prejudice, or stoke the flames of political divide. Loughner perpetrated a mass shooting that left 6 people dead and put 13 others in the hospital. While 19 people were caught in the attack, the main target was Democratic Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords. Giffords was shot in the head at point blank range and today battles for recovery. It is not far-fetched to assume that the motivation for his actions were the result of a twisted political ideology.
A few years ago, a personal friend and mentor, who played a huge role in changing Arizona politics during the era of the civil rights movement, told me that “the political climate in Arizona has to get much worse, before we begin to see any real change.” Does a bloodbath in a supermarket parking lot qualify as “much worse?” I’d like to believe that it does, and that we will begin to see real change in Arizona’s political forums. However, realistically, even this terrible tragedy is unlikely to bring the changes that we need. The priorities of our legislature and our laws are not where they should be. For example, instead of finding responsible solutions to a difficult economic period, the Arizona legislature has focused on bills that require Doctors to become federal immigration inspectors. While people are dying because State Medicare cuts preclude life-saving transplants, the legislature has focused on passing less restrictive gun laws that allow people like Loughner to easily obtain, carry and conceal weapons in public places. .
This tragedy should also bring us together to at least discuss the effectiveness and prudence of our current gun laws. Although the Federal government and States like Arizona have ardently protected individual gun rights for many years, it wasn’t until recently that the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on whether the Constitution even contains an individual right to gun ownership. In that decision, the Supreme Court held that the right to “bear arms” does allow “law abiding” individuals to possess guns for self-defense. Since this decision, there has been an even stronger trend towards protecting individual gun rights. Even in the wake of the Tucson tragedy and other mass-shootings across the nation, this trend is unlikely to change and calls for more restrictive gun laws will likely be stifled. Consequently, dangerous, unstable, and ideologically twisted people—whom have previously been labeled “law abiding” – will continue to enjoy easy access to guns.
When a tragedy like the shooting in Tuscon occurs, the natural reaction is to look for explanations so we can prevent the same thing from happening again. During this period of reflection, it is important that we are able to be critical of our laws and of our political processes and discussions. Whether our not we ultimately change these things, we must be able to question them and open our beliefs to alternative points of view.
 See Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona – poster child for the new radical right?, THE HILL, Jan. 31, 2011, http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/arizona/politics/article_a0385710-34c2-11e0-9a4f-001cc4c03286.html.
 See Associated Press, Bill Requiring Hospitals to Check Immigration Status in Arizona Causes Concern, FOX NEWS LATINO, Feb. 15, 2011, http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2011/02/15/arizona-require-hospitals-check-citizenship-er-ice-immigrants/
 Howard Fischer, Bill to rule out abortions based on gender, race advances, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE, Feb. 9, 2011, http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/arizona/politics/article_a0385710-34c2-11e0-9a4f-001cc4c03286.html
 Arizona House OKs Bill Requiring Presidential Candidates to Provide Birth Certificate, FOXNEWS.COM, April 22, 2010, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/04/22/arizona-house-oks-requiring-presidential-candidates-provide-birth-certificate/.
 Associated Press, Major Milestone: Wounded Giffords Moves Arms, Legs, AZFAMILY.COM, January 13, 2011, http://www.azfamily.com/news/national/113444919.html.
 Associated Press, Shooting Suspect’s Nihilism Rose with Isolation, AZFAMILY.COM, January 9, 2011, http://www.azfamily.com/news/national/113168809.html.
 Associated Press,supra note 3.
 Associated Press, Ariz. Cuts Transplant Coverage; Two Patients Die, CBS NEWS, Jan. 6, 2011, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/01/06/health/main7219326.shtml.
 Kevin Kiley, Arizona’s concealed-weapon law takes effect, ARIZONA REPUBLIC, Feb. 16 2011, http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/2010/07/29/20100729arizona-concealed-weapons-law.html.
 Heller v. District of Columbia, 128 S. Ct. 2783, 2793, 2817 (2008).
 Kathleen Hennessey and Lisa Mascaro, Tucson Tragedy Unlikely to Advance Gun Control Legislation, L.A. TIMES, January 14, 2011, http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-gun-control-20110114,0,1261398.story?page=2.