In a matter of minutes, six people were killed and thirteen were injured on Friday, January 7, 2011, in Tucson, Arizona. It has been determined that gunman Jared Lee Loughner, 22, specifically targeted Rep. Gabrielle Giffords during her “Congress in Your Corner” event at the La Toscana shopping center. Giffords had just been reelected to her third term in November and had been sworn into office only two days prior to the shooting. Now, we find the representative and country recovering from this tragic event.
Rep. Giffords was shot in the head during Loughner’s rampage, but luckily was attended to by intern Daniel Hernandez (who had prior nursing training) until emergency workers were able to arrive on the scene. Giffords and two others who were wounded in the shooting are in good condition at the University Medical Center in Tucson, while the nine others suffering injuries have been released. The health of the congresswoman appears to be continually improving as she has opened her eyes, is breathing on her own through assistance from a tracheotomy tube in her windpipe, and can respond to basic commands like squeezing a hand, which indicates to neurosurgeons that she is capable of brain function.
While people across the nation have been shaken by the shooting on January 7th, members of Congress have been especially hard hit by events. This marks the most recent attempt on the life of a sitting member of Congress since 1978 when Rep. Leo Ryan of California was killed while in Jonestown, Guyana. Tentative legislative business, including a reexamination of the current health-care law, has been postponed. Instead, talk has turned to issues of safety, such as a possible bill to enclose the House of Representatives’ public galleries in a material similar to Plexiglas and the installation of “panic buttons” within offices. While many citizens are calling for stricter gun control, legislators will not go as far, but instead talk of a bill banning high-capacity gun magazines.
The state of Arizona and Gov. Jan Brewer has passed their own legislation in the meantime, banning protests within 300 feet of a funeral site. This law comes as a response to the Westboro Baptist Church announcing plans to picket the funeral of U.S. District Judge John Roll. While funerals and vigils are being held for those he killed and injured, Jared Loughner was taken into custody after being tackled by onlookers while reloading at the “Congress on Your Corner” event. He is currently being held in Phoenix without bail, facing federal charges for two counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder.
San Diego based lawyer Judy Clarke has been appointed to defend Loughner and has gained recognition in her career by previously defending Theodore Kaczynski, a.k.a. the Unabomber, and Susan Smith. Because of John Roll’s position as federal judge in Tucson, the remaining federal judges in his district have decided to not preside over the case in order to avoid a conflict of interest; a federal judge from outside the state may have to be brought in. More likely, Clarke will seek a change of venue in hopes of ensuring Loughner a fair trial. Though changes in venue are not typically granted, pretrial publicity can necessitate the move due to an impartial jury being unlikely within the community where the crime took place, as was the situation during the 1996 Oklahoma City bombing case.