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Tucson, Arizona: It Could Happen Here, and Anywhere

4 years ago
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Tucson, Arizona, has always held a special place in my heart. It's the city where my son was born 28 years ago. A newspaper job and a sense of adventure drew me farther west than I had ever been and this East Coast gal quickly fell in love – with the desert landscape and lifestyle.

I loved that a place so different from the urban cities where I had lived and worked was still a part of the United States. It proved how diverse America could be. The territory that didn't become a state until 1912 introduced me to the Mexican-American and Native American cultures that helped shape it. Tucson had its own special beauty – from the look and smell of the desert after a sudden rain to the Saguaro cactus sentinels at the edge of what passed for a front yard in my funky home in the Tucson Mountain foothills.

Though we moved after a few years, we returned often to visit the Desert Museum and enjoy the turkey mole and refried beans as only El Torero in South Tucson could make them. My son always referred to himself as a desert rat, happy to tell classmates in New Jersey or North Carolina that he was born in Pima County, Arizona. It conferred a Western cool that set you apart.

What I remembered most was the friendliness of the people and the libertarian streak that accepted each person's quirks and beliefs. It wasn't that people wanted to use the guns they checked at the door. They just didn't want anyone else to tell them what they could and could not do.

And unlike so many other places I had passed through, you didn't have to immediately declare allegiance to any clan or crowd. Like me, most people I met were from somewhere else and settled in Tucson because it felt comfortable.

The city itself seemed to have a live-and-let-live attitude.

Now Tucson is known for something else. Add its name to the grim list of places scarred by an incident of senseless violence. Just as Virginia Tech alumni reunions can't help but be tinged with sadness because of a disturbed man with a gun, the pleasures of Tucson must make way for the pain that is now a part of the desert city.

Among those wounded by a gunman who struck on Saturday morning was Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, now in critical condition. Among the dead are Arizona's chief federal trial judge, John McCarthy Roll, and Christina Taylor Green -- a 9-year-old born on Sept. 11, 2001 -- who wanted to learn how government works.

In truth, the image of Arizona had been shifting for years. The fanciful drama of Tombstone gunfights immortalized in fable and on film has hardened in the past few years into real-life battles over shrinking revenues and border security. The border town of Nogales -- always good for a day of shopping and dinner -- is now labeled in an NPR report as a "no man's land," a city transformed by illegal immigration and drug smugglers.

No one knows what the man carrying a gun to a Giffords event in 2009 had in mind. But after the fractious health-care protests that unsettled the nation that summer, it's a good bet he wasn't there to compliment the congresswoman on her support for the president's reform bill.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik's words that the state has become the "mecca for prejudice and bigotry" have themselves set off a debate. But it's understandable that a man aware of the threats and now actions that critically wounded his friend might have an opinion.

In so many ways, Giffords is pure independent Arizona, a proud Democrat who likes to ride her motorcycle helmet-free and is a guardian of gun rights. She was greeting constituents who – in the contrarian way I loved – gave her a win in an election she was supposed to lose.

That Saturday morning meet-and-greet is the Tucson people would like to remember.

And it's gone.

Click here to follow Mary C. Curtis on Twitter.

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As our politicans continue to polarize issues in this country for political gain, this is a possible outcome. When Fox News continues to lambast this legislator or that legisaltor to increase ratings,that increases risks of violence too. The extremes in this country, right and left, are out of control. The republic is in danger.

January 10 2011 at 12:43 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

If you honestly believe the speech and actions of the Palin's, Beck's, and other "self labled Conservatives" aren't dangerous; post a photo of yourself on Face Book with a bull's eye painted on your forehead, provide a schedule of your activities, state any political or social view (or critisize Rush Limbaugh) and stand up for what you believe!

January 10 2011 at 11:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The shooting did not actually happen in Tucson's city limits. It happened in unincorperated Pima County. 1000 feet from Oro Valley city limits and 1 mile from Tucson city limits. That is why the Pima County sheriff dept is working the investigation with the FBI. It's a tragedy yes but my poor city is getting a black eye when all it did was provide the life saving medical care.

January 10 2011 at 11:33 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Mark's comment

And loudmouth Sheriff Dupnik has been too busy prosecuting Limbaugh and Palin to stay up to date on his firearms background checks, evidently.

January 11 2011 at 7:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This gunman does not have the power to see that Tucson gone. He has hurt but he has not defeated the spirit of the people. May God bless Tucson and may her enemies fail.

January 10 2011 at 10:50 AM Report abuse +11 rate up rate down Reply

Yes, these horrific things happen anywhere and sadly innocents get hurt or killed. Tucson will heal and the Sherriff, hopefully, will control his emotions the next time around. I think the media, both written and televised, has, once again, run amuck with this tragedy.

Sometimes it's best to keep things in perspective and allow our emotions to calm down before putting them in the news.

January 10 2011 at 10:35 AM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply

Mary, "it's a good bet" no one knows what was in this madman's head - even the madman himself. Why turn a tragedy into a political statement? You and Sheriff Dupnik have now both recklessly imprinted your own political bias into a terrible, terrible situation.

You both should be ashamed.

January 10 2011 at 10:21 AM Report abuse +13 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to wildkatzaz's comment

I agree. One of the killer's school mates felt that he was on drugs. Why not MORE EMPHASIS on illegal drugs??? We need to secure our borders and start a serious fight agains illegal drugs. It is a cancer in our society.

January 10 2011 at 10:52 AM Report abuse +14 rate up rate down Reply

Why is it everything people say, do or think have to be political. You walk into a room and say something and right away those that hear you try to figure if you are liberal, conservative or whatever. People have the right to an opinion and that is all it is. It would be almost impossible to find two people with the same opinion about the same topic. Politics is not an exact science it is nothing more then a group that share some but not all opinions or thoughts. No person or group of people elected will make everyone happen even those that elect them. Not every law passed will make everyone happy or help everyone.

January 10 2011 at 9:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Every day in every city there are untold numbers of mentally ill people who are not receiving proper medical care; or if they have received proper care, perhaps many are not taking their prescribed medications or are not going to counseling sessions; thus, they have negative outward behaviors which hurt others. The case in Tuscon happens every day in every city, not always with guns, but often the mentally ill hurt others with cars, knives, chemicals, etc. This case is high profile because it involves a member of Congress; if it had been all regular citizens who were injured or killed, the story would just blend into another backpage story of another psychologically ill person creating another terrible situation. Please, let us stick to the facts and not politicize this tragedy. Let us look into how we can secure more adequate follow-up and help for those with psychological disorders.

January 10 2011 at 9:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Im sorry, but Arizona, like many other places, isnt the same anymore. Violence is a way of life here and the ultra conservative nature of its legislators and governor, its lack of gun laws and the 'its them or us' attitudes here in Arizona has generated a climate of hatred and paranoia. Sheriff Dupnik is right - in many ways, Arizona may be a more dangerous place than it was back in the Wyatt Earp days!

January 10 2011 at 9:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Walley Faye

I used to live in Tucson as well. My oldest daughter was born there, and my youngest is a student at U of A. Mary described very well the Tucson I remember. The friendly people, and the live-and-let-live of the old hippies that moved there. Now I greive for a lost innocence that Tucson may never have again.

January 10 2011 at 9:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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