january 2011


Lock and Load and Lost in Tucson Today:

What's the Matter with My Arizona?

By Jeff Biggers

Author, "Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland"
Huffington Post, January 8, 2011

[Ed. Note: We here at TheBluegrassSpecial.com, were saddened and outraged by the horrific shooting rampage 22-year-old Jared Lee Laughner embarked on in Tucson on January 8, were not sure how to approach the tragedy, since we're a monthly publication and events are still unfolding on a daily basis. We found our answer in a column by Arizona native, author and Huffington Post blogger Jeff Biggers. For years Mr. Biggers has been leading the way in covering the horrors of mountaintop removal coal mining and the ravenous profits-before-people policy of outfits such as Massey Energy. Our November 2009 special cover story report on the grassroots movement against mountaintop removal mining, “Coal Field Uprising”, took its title from a report Mr. Biggers filed in The Nation and which was reprinted in that issue. His January 8 Huffington Post reflections, though centered on his feelings about Arizona as one of its concerned residents, speak to the larger issues we hope all Americans are pondering in the wake of the Tucson terror.]

Tucson, Arizona—I was 8-years-old in Tucson when I first had a firearm pressed into my hands at a summer camp, and I locked and loaded and fired.

I thought about that strange first gun experience when I heard the initial confusing news reports of the shooting of US Rep. Gabby Giffords and 17 other Arizonans at a Safeway supermarket on the northwest side of town I have frequented often. I immediately headed for the university hospital.

On the drive over, I was reminded by a Tucson friend that it has been less than a year since Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer made her state one of three in the nation to allow citizens to possess concealed weapons without a permit for those over the age of 21.

The alleged Tucson shooter is 22. According to the New York Times, "a witness to the shootings and a former emergency room doctor who now works at a hospice, said, 'I think it was a semiautomatic, and he must have got off 20 rounds.'"

A nine-year-old bystander has been listed among six confirmed dead; 12 others, including the beloved Rep. Giffords, are in critical condition.

One of the dead is federal Judge John Roll, who had received death threats over an immigrant rights case.

I don't believe this tragedy should be reduced to a debate over the disturbed shooter's motives.

giffordsBut how on earth can we even have a discussion on decent gun control laws when guns and the gun lobby are woven into the fabric of life for those of us who grew up in Arizona?

I cut my political teeth as a 17-year-old intern with legendary Arizona US Rep. Mo Udall, who defied liberal Democrats with his opposition to gun control. Udall told a Harvard crowd during his presidential campaign 1976: "I don't claim total courage; I don't claim total wisdom."

In my 40-year relationship with this state, I have never witnessed such overt hatred on the level that has been spewed by politicians and talking heads over the past year or so. Earlier this spring, many of us warned of a tipping point of violence in Arizona—and around the nation.

When I first opened the New York Times this morning, I read about Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne's obsessive and near witch-hunt of the Tucson Unified School District's Ethnic Studies Program.

A few days ago, the second denied transplant patient died in Arizona, due to Gov. Brewer's draconian cutbacks.

What's the matter with my Arizona, where I grew up as a redneck transplant from southern Illinois in 1970s, and have continued to visit my family?

"As I write," says long-time author and social critic Gregory McNamee in Tucson, "it is not clear whether Representative Gabrielle Giffords has been killed or has survived being shot, along with at least a dozen and perhaps as many as twenty other victims." McNamee adds:

"What is clear to me, at this chaotic moment, is that no one should be surprised by this turn of events. The bullets that were fired in Tucson this morning are the logical extension of every bit of partisan hatred that came spewing out during the last election, in which Gabrielle Giffords—-a centrist, representing well and faithfully a centrist district—-was vilified and demonized as a socialist, a communist, a fascist, a job-killer, a traitor, and more.

“Anyone who uttered such words or paid for them to be uttered has his or her name etched on those bullets.

“With what we have seen today, the rest of us must declare that we will tolerate no more lies, no more hatred, no more violence—-and that never again will we spend a single dollar on the wares sold by those who perpetrate them.

“If not now, when?"

Now in Arizona—and the nation—do we have the courage and wisdom to deal with our gun laws? To stop the hatred from finding its all-too-easy expression through the barrel of the gun?


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