PHOENIX - A veteran state lawmaker said Monday that Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik is at least partly responsible for Saturday's shooting that left six dead and 14 injured.
"How is it that a U.S. congressman can hold an event and there's no law enforcement?" asked Rep. Jack Harper, R-Surprise. "He should have had a deputy at that event," adding it is irrelevant whether or not U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords even notified the Sheriff's Deparment about her "Congress on Your Corner" event.
"It was his jurisdiction for law enforcement," Harper said.
On another front, Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, took offense at some comments by Dupnik about his conclusion Arizona has "become the mecca of prejudice and bigotry," and about the ability of any adult to carry a concealed weapon.
Melvin said "the left" is trying to make the shooting into a political issue. "It's a mental-disorder problem, and I think the sheriff of Pima County ought to stop and think about that one a little bit."
Harper's ire was stirred by Dupnik's criticism of legislative loosening of concealed-weapons law.
Melvin and Harper aren't alone in their criticism. Dupnik's blaming of the rampage on extreme political rhetoric, bigotry and hatred he says are rampant in Arizona have made him the focal point of a national debate, generating a flood of e-mails to his office, and a growing list of supporters and critics.
Dupnik did not immediately return repeated calls. But he told The Associated Press he was angry and heartbroken over the tragedy, and was simply speaking his mind as an American, not a law enforcement official.
"It's a free country; people can say what they want, and I said what I wanted to," he said in defense of his remarks.
Trent Humphries, co-founder of the Tucson Tea Party, says his in-box has been jammed since Dupnik's remarks with messages telling him he has blood on his hands or that he and his family should have been the ones killed.
Despite the fallout, Humphries said he doesn't think the sheriff is a bad guy, just someone who didn't fully consider the possible consequences of his words.
"It's ironic and unfortunate him saying things like that, which caused even more hateful speech and division," Humphries said.
While U.S. Rep, Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., said Monday that Dupnik is his new "folk hero," Melvin accused Dupnik of grandstanding. "He's from the Democratic Party, and he's trying to score some political points here."