BY JOHN FUND – The Arizona shootings have made Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, the man in charge of investigating the tragedy, a liberal hero for his comments targeting what he calls the “irresponsible” political rhetoric of conservatives. But he also has critics who say his department was well aware of Jared Loughner’s mental instability and may have been slow to respond to death threats the suspect made in the months leading up to Saturday’s rampage.
Mr. Dupnik has been Pima County sheriff for 30 years and is a seasoned law enforcement professional. But he hasn’t sounded that way of late. A Democrat and self-described Rachel Maddow fan, he has deliberately inserted himself into politics by linking the shootings to conservative commentators and rhetoric.
His fellow lawmen in Arizona are appalled because all of the evidence so far suggests that the gunman is a deeply disturbed individual with no coherent political motives. “I just hope he’s not giving this 22-year-old an alibi by blaming talk radio,” Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio told the Los Angeles Times.
Mr. Dupnik decided to personalize his comments yesterday when he went after Rush Limbaugh. “[Mr. Limbaugh] attacks people, angers them against government, angers them against elected officials,” he said. “And that kind of behavior in my opinion is not without consequences.” He told ABC News that he would like to see the federal government establish a commission to promote civility in the U.S.
This is not the first time Sheriff Dupnik has gone off on tangents. Back in September, he accused Tea Party members of bigotry and called Arizona’s new controversial anti-illegal immigration law “racist” and “disgusting.” He even openly flirted with the idea of ordering his deputies not to enforce it.
Sheriff Dupnik would do far better to spend his time figuring out how Jared Loughner managed to buy a gun last November to commit his crimes. He apparently passed a federal background check solely because he had no prison record. But Reuters reports that Sheriff Dupnik acknowledged that “there had been earlier contact between Loughner and law enforcement after he had made death threats, although they had not been against [Rep. Gabrielle] Giffords.” The sheriff’s department was aware that Loughner had been asked by police at a local community college to stop attending classes because of his odd behavior. Several of his fellow students expressed fear of him and said they believed he was unstable.
The real debate in the aftermath of the Arizona shootings should be why a troubled individual was able to compile such a record without attracting more attention from Sheriff Dupnik and his fellow law enforcement professionals. Perhaps if Loughner had been convicted of making death threats, he wouldn’t have been able to clear the federal background check he needed to purchase a firearm last November.