Saturday, January 8, 2011 was supposed to be a big day in Tucson, Arizona. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords had scheduled a ‘meet and greet’, a time when she could get to know those she represents in a more 'real-person' basis, shaking hands and visiting with those she was re-elected to represent in Washington. A conservative Democrat, Giffords was living the fairy-tale life of someone who’d worked hard for what she wanted. She’d just been re-elected to her third term representing a district that she loved, had been sworn in and come home for an informal come-and-go where she could hear people’s thoughts, shake their hands and put faces to those she strove to stand for in Congress.
About 10:00 that morning, everything changed.
A man asked one of Giffords’ aides if he could speak to the Congresswoman. He was directed to the back of the line that had formed in the Safeway Grocery Store parking lot. He seemed to move to take his place, but instead shoved past the aide and others in line. Raising a semiautomatic handgun, he fired at the Congresswoman, her staff and others standing around her. Chaos erupted as three people, one woman and two men grabbed the magazine he was trying to load and tackled the gunman.
Paramedics arrived almost immediately, followed by careflight helicopters. Injured were lifted from the scene of the tragedy to nearby hospitals. A total of 20 were shot by the gunman, a 22-year-old Tucson man named Jared Loughner. Six died either at the scene of the shooting or at the hospital. The Congresswoman survived, although she was listed in critical condition Sunday, the day after the shooting.
The shooting raised questions about the fragile emotional state of our politics. With a health care bill that seemed to polarize Americans only recently passed and already targeted for repeal, a mid-semester election that unseated experienced politicians for new-comers and a national mood of political unrest, many wonder if the citizens of our country have been pushed too far. While it’s part of the American culture to express opinions and to replace government officials that seem unresponsive to the wishes of the people, no one wants violence to be a solution to any disagreement. Several citizens, officials and news people expressed hope that this tragedy might open hearts and minds to a more constructive discussion about the needs of the country and ways to accomplish them.
Loughner was charged with attempted assassination of a government official for the shooting of Giffords. He was also charged with other counts involving the shooting of government employees. State charges may follow on the other murders.