Arizona Sheriff Slams Right-Wing Media and Gun Laws: "Arizona Victimized by Gun Lobby" ... Conservative Media "Make Millions Inflaming Public"
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Editor's note: In the interview below, Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman talks to Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik about the right wing media's violent rhetoric. Dupnik also slams Arizona's lax gun laws, calling the state the "Tombstone of the United States." The first segment consists of comments from Dupnik's press conference; in the second part Goodman asks the Sheriff to elaborate on his argument that the tragedy highlights the real-world dangers of extreme right-wing talk.
The court documents filed Sunday suggest that the attempted assassination of Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was premeditated. While the motivation for the attack remains unclear, the picture emerging of the suspect, Jared Lee Loughner, is of a severely disturbed 22-year-old with mental health issues. We speak with Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik.
AMY GOODMAN: As we talk about terror in Tucson, the attack on people in Tucson who had come simply to speak with their Congress member, to speak with Gabrielle Giffords. She was shot through the head. A federal judge was killed, John Roll, as well as a number of bystanders. Many are also injured.
One of the major news conferences that was held this weekend was with the FBI director Robert Mueller. Extremely rare in an attack like this for an FBI director himself to come out to lead the investigation. He stood with Clarence Dupnik, who wrapped up the press conference. We’re going to go to a clip of what the Sheriff of Pima County had to say and then go to him live in Tucson, Arizona. This is Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik.
REPORTER: You’re a Democrat, and this is obviously more than just another case that came by your office, under you. You know these people, several of them, for a long time. I’ve seen you at functions with Gabby, and parties, when you guys both won. Tell us a little about your personal feelings on this matter.
SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: Well, it’s very hard. I have a—I vacillate between extreme sadness and sorrow and shock and extreme anger.
REPORTER: Sheriff, I would like for you to [inaudible] your own comment, that freedom of speech does not come without consequences. Do you care to clarify that or elaborate on that?
SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: Could you ask the question again, please?
REPORTER: Certainly. Last night you made a pretty general statement that freedom of speech does not come without consequences. Do you care to elaborate on that?
SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: Well, I think that when the rhetoric about hatred, about mistrust of government, about paranoia of how government operates, and to try to inflame the public on a daily basis, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, has impact on people, especially who are unbalanced personalities to begin with.
REPORTER: Does he have an attorney, [inaudible]?
SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: I don’t know.
REPORTER: On Loughner and his criminal past, is it something that came up in background checks when he applied for—when he bought the pistol?
SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: I do not know the answer to that question.
REPORTER: Sheriff, what are your observations about the state of the Arizona gun laws in light of what happened?
SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: Well, I think we’re the tombstone of the United States of America.
REPORTER: Could you explain?
REPORTER: Was that a reference to the town, Sheriff, or is that metaphorical?
SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: I have never been a proponent of letting everybody in this state carry weapons under any circumstances that they want. And that’s almost where we are. The legislature at this time is proposing that students and teachers be allowed to have weapons in schools and in college. You know, colleges ought to be run by the college presidents, not the Arizona legislature. But that’s the ridiculous state to where we have become. And we have one more question.
REPORTER: Sheriff, the woman injured that was injured yesterday who grabbed the magazine, was she injured prior to grabbing the magazine?
SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: As she was shot.
REPORTER: Before grabbing?
SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: Before grabbing the weapon.
REPORTER: Sheriff, what about the gun laws? What about any change in mental health law, the treatment of mental health for some of these people, as well? Is that any issue involved there?
SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: That’s an everyday issue for the entire United States, for the entire world. We have very, very serious problems in this community. Back in 1960, when I was a young cop on the beat, we put the mentally ill people who were threats into a system that incarcerated them. Today, they’re out on the street, and we’re paying a price for it. Thank you very much.
REPORTER: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Clarence Dupnik, Sheriff of Pima County, Arizona, speaking at a news conference with the FBI director, Robert Mueller. And Sheriff Dupnik now joins us on the telephone from Tucson.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Our condolences on this horrible tragedy. I wanted to go to your statement that Arizona is "the tombstone of the United States of America," when it comes to gun laws in this country. Arizona is only one of three states in this country that have laws that allow you to carry a concealed weapon without a permit in public. Talk about these laws, Sheriff Dupnik.
SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: Well, Arizona is an ultra-right, ultra-conservative state. And I think it is victimized by the gun lobby. Our legislators don’t seem capable of doing anything reasonable when it comes to weapons in this state. And as you heard on the clip, there’s a bill put into the legislature, as we speak, that would allow teachers and students to carry weapons concealed in the classrooms. And to me, it’s insane.
AMY GOODMAN: The history of this—Janet Napolitano, the head of the Department of Homeland Security, had vetoed efforts in the past, but when Janet—when Governor Brewer came into office, she signed a bill that made Arizona not only the third state, after Alaska and Vermont, to make it legal to carry a concealed weapon without a permit, but she has also signed a bill allowing loaded guns in bars and restaurants and another bill that prohibits property owners from banning guns from parking areas, as long as the weapons are kept locked in vehicles. Do you think these laws need to be revoked, need to be changed?
SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: Well, there is absolutely no chance that that’s going to happen in the state of Arizona. But we can’t get the legislature to pass a law against texting while driving. That’s how, in my judgment, ridiculously things have become in our state.
AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been extremely strong, Sheriff Dupnik, about the political climate in Arizona, particularly the state of TV and radio talk shows. Explain exactly what you mean.
SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: Well, I think that there are a lot of people in the radio industry, especially, and some in the TV industry, who make millions of dollars off of inflaming the public, purveying hate against the government, and distrust. And in some cases, we have political candidates who say, "Maybe if we can’t solve these problems, we need to consider the Second Amendment as a solution," or we have high-profile people saying, "People like Gabrielle Giffords, we need to keep in the crosshairs." And in my judgment, these kinds of statements are totally irresponsible, and there are consequences associated with them.
AMY GOODMAN: Sheriff Dupnik, I want to play a clip of Republican senator Jon Kyl of Arizona. He was interviewed on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday. Bob Schieffer questioned him about your comments.
BOB SCHIEFFER: The Sheriff of Pima County blamed the vitriolic political rhetoric that has consumed the country—that is his phrase—for this happening. Do you feel that that was a part of this?
SEN. JON KYL: First, I didn’t really think that that had any part in a law enforcement briefing last night. It was speculation. And I don’t think we should rush to speculate. I thought that the report that we just saw from Tucson seems to have it about right. We really don’t know what motivated this young person, except to know that he was very mentally unstable.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, your senator, Sheriff Dupnik. Sheriff Dupnik, your response?
SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: My response is, precisely what I said before, I stand by. In my judgment, people who are mentally unstable are very susceptible to the kind of rhetoric that’s going on in our country. And I think that we all have a responsibility to take a look at that. I think it’s sad, the state that America has become, where we have a political system that, in my judgment, is totally broken. And anger plays a large role in the things that are going on. And there are people who play to the anger in our people and who encourage it.
AMY GOODMAN: You made a very important point at the end of this news conference, and it has to do with people who are mentally unstable. I had a few questions to ask you about this.
SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: One is, what about the fact that Jared Loughner, who was kicked out of Pima County—at least, suspended—Pima County College, as mentally unstable, a potential danger to himself and others, clearly a problem—how was he able to purchase a gun in Tucson?
SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: Well, he could have purchased a gun anywhere in the United States of America, based on the laws that we have. Mental incompetency is a reason to disqualify a person, but you have to be declared mentally incompetent by the court system. And he has not been declared mentally incompetent. And there are millions—maybe I overstate—maybe tens of thousands of people just like this individual in our country that are vulnerable, make our politicians especially vulnerable. I know that in Congress, there’s considerable angst as to what happened in Tucson, Arizona. And I think they all realize that when they’re out of public, they are very rarely—unless there’s some specific information or intelligence that there may be a problem, they are unprotected. And I think that we need to take a look at how we can do a better job in law enforcement of protecting our elected officials and our political figures.
AMY GOODMAN: Sheriff, this is from the Treatment Advocacy Center: "Arizona jails or imprisons 9.3 times more people with severe mental illness than it hospitalizes," the second worst in the nation. "Arizona has 5.9 psychiatric beds per 100,000 population," also the second worst rate in the nation. Nevada is worse on both scores. "Arizona is home to more than 50,000 people with schizophrenia, of whom a minimum of 25,000 are likely to be untreated at any given time."
You talked about how times have changed as you’ve been in law enforcement for decades, more than half a century.
SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: That’s a fact. And as a matter of fact, in Pima County, where I happen to be the sheriff, the finest psychiatric facility in our county is the Pima County Jail.
AMY GOODMAN: Sheriff Dupnik, have you spoken to Jared Loughner?
SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: I have not spoken to him. As a matter of fact, nobody has spoken to him. When he was subdued and put in police custody, when he was advised of his Miranda rights, he invoked his Miranda rights and has not talked.
AMY GOODMAN: Today he will be arraigned. On what charges?
SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: Well, I’m not sure exactly. These are federal charges, that he’s going to be arraigned in Phoenix because of a conflict we have, because one of the victims is a federal judge here in Tucson. But he’s going to be arraigned on murder charges.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Clarence Dupnik is the Sheriff of Pima County, Arizona. This is Democracy Now!
SHERIFF CLARENCE DUPNIK: Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you for joining us from Tucson.