TOMBSTONE/TUCSON (Reuters) - A block from the famous OK Corral of cowboy outlaw history, retired police officer Bob Harbster has some advice for the Arizona sheriff investigating the Tucson shooting of a congresswoman and 19 others and who is raising the prospect of gun control: Wise up.
“As far as I‘m concerned, if you’re not carrying a gun, you are a potential victim, from crazies like this little fool up there yesterday,” Harbster said on Sunday as he walked down the historical dirt and timber main street of Tombstone.
Tucson police believe 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner sprayed a small political gathering at a grocery store with bullets from a semi-automatic pistol, wounding Representative Gabrielle Giffords with a shot that went clean through her head and killing a nine-year-old girl and five others.
Tombstone is a former silver boom town whose historic Old West buildings and outlaw flavor have made it a tourist attraction about 70 miles southeast of Tucson.
“Gun control” are fighting words in many parts of Arizona and the United States, and Saturday’s slaughter has raised the stakes in the battle as many shocked citizens call for curbs on political rhetoric in the state and the nation.
“If somebody there was armed, they could have taken care of him,” said Harbster.
The old silver mining city where Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp had a shootout with the McLaury clan in 1881 was pushed to the center of the U.S. gun control debate on Sunday, when Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said Arizona had become the “Tombstone of the United States,” and said he didn’t believe everyone in Arizona should have the right to pack a gun.
Jim Newbauer, owner of a gun shop called Lefty’s Corner Store in Tombstone, stood behind a counter in his store, packed with vintage pistols and old frontier rifles and chided Sheriff Dupnik for his remarks about Tombstone. But he was ambivalent about the need for gun control.
“Even if there was a ban on guns everywhere, ... if people wanted to use them, they’d still get their hands on them,” he said, but Arizona arguably had gone too far, allowing concealed weapons without a license, he said.
“Anyone can stuff a gun in their pocket and walk around with it,” he said. “They should have required some training to learn the law, and when to use it and when not to use it.”
‘ARMED TO THE TEETH’
The debate over guns adds a layer of complexity to a larger one over inflammatory political rhetoric and its role in inciting violence in Arizona and in America. The shootings led many in the state to call for an agreement to disagree.
“The right word is ‘civility’ in our communities. We’ve been there before and we need to get back,” said Bob Walkup, the mayor of Tucson. “This is a national tragedy.”
Attending Casas church on Sunday morning in an affluent Tucson suburb near where the shooting occurred, carpet saleswoman Vickie Oberg, 63, who disagreed with Giffords’ positions, believed compassion would calm the storm.
“Politically we are totally opposite of her, but in our hearts we are so sorry about it,” she said, speaking for herself and her husband.
Standing at a makeshift shrine to Giffords at the hospital where the representative is being treated, epidemiologist Jane Mohler, 57, saw the tragedy as a chance for the state to bury its differences, but she doesn’t expect Arizona -- or America -- to change.
“This could bring us together, or it could further rip us apart, and my fear is that it is going to further rip us apart,” she said. People were afraid and mean-spirited, she said. “We are an armed-to-the-teeth state, and nation.”
Back in the hardscrabble high desert city that bills itself as “the town too tough to die,” student Eric Tyler, 37, said he thought Giffords’ death was “unnecessary” -- as was gun control.
“There’s still millions of people out there who have guns and don’t go killing people. It’s the idiots that kill people,” he said.
Editing by Mary Milliken and Cynthia Osterman