Bench Mark: A tragedy within a tragedy

By Hon. Robert J. Lunn
The Daily Record Newswire

The problem with political jokes is they get elected
— Henry Cate VII

At times I have tried to inject humor into this column as I examine and write about the current issues of the day. Not this one.

On Jan. 8, a gunman shot U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 other people as she met with constituents outside a Safeway grocery store in Tucson, Ariz. Six people died, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl. The suspect in the attack, Jared Loughner, 22, is presently being held in federal custody.

It struck at the very core of our system of government; the open and free debate of issues; face to face discussions with constituents; freedom to move from location to location without the fear of injury or death.

Nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green lost her life in this despicable act of violence while attending a political public forum and while trying to learn more about the political process.

Senseless violence and bloodshed. Disgusting and tragic. Injury and death at the hands of an apparently psychotic and extremely disturbed and dangerous individual.

So it was particularly disturbing to me to witness what unfolded in the aftermath of this awful tragedy. Literally, only a few hours later, the mass media and elected officials began to trip over each other to exploit this dire event to advance their own political agenda and bias. Is this the way we remember 18 victims and six deaths? I don’t think so.

The biggest offender had to be Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik. Sheriff Dupnik, a Democrat, is the seven-time elected chief law enforcement official of Pima County and Tucson, where the bloody massacre unfolded. He has been involved in law enforcement for more than 50 years. He stood before the microphone and the cameras and proclaimed to anyone who would listen that the vitriolic political debate, hate speech and “talk radio” — read this to mean “right wing conservatism” — had contributed to this shooting. When a reporter from the Fox News network asked if he had any evidence to support this allegation, he admitted he had none.

Dupnik publicly blasted the lax gun control laws of Arizona and proclaimed his state to be the “tombstone of the United States.” He berated those who “try to inflame the public 24 hours a day.” He pronounced that “vitriolic rhetoric” had contributed to this tragedy. This was followed less than 48 hours later by Mayor Bloomberg of New York City calling for tougher gun control laws both locally and nationally.

So, these two elected officials used this tragedy to launch an attack on free speech and gun rights. The First and Second Amendments to the Constitution, (at least you did it sequentially) collectively known as our Bill of Rights, shuddered.

Hey, I do not have a pistol permit; I am not a gun owner; and I probably agree with less than 10 percent of what I hear on the radio every day. But I will defend to my very last breath anyone’s right to own a gun and to freely express his or her opinion.

And by way of a quick aside and as a memo to Mayor Bloomberg: Stop calling press conferences seeking tougher gun control laws in the aftermath of this tragedy and instead get the damn streets of New York plowed during snowstorms. We had to move our daughter, Nicole from her apartment in Manhattan on Dec. 30 and it was not fun doing that in unplowed streets. Your city was a mess.

Neither talk radio nor the 24-hour news cycle nor inadequate gun control laws caused this crazed gunman to go on a shooting spree. But you, Sheriff Dupnik can take comfort in knowing that if they ever do put you up on the big screen your part in this tragedy can easily be played by your stunt double, Gene “do you still pick your toes in Poughkeepsie” Hackman.

Now, I’m sure that last reference sailed right over the heads of my younger demographic but you have the advantage of Netflix and the ability to immediately download and play The French Connection. You’ll get it.

Sheriff Dupnik, if your theory and your distorted political agenda had any merit — and it doesn’t — then how do you explain the actual or attempted assassinations of Presidents Andrew Jackson (1835), Abe Lincoln (1865), James Garfield (1881), William McKinley (1901), Harry Truman (1950), John F. Kennedy (1963) Gerald Ford (1975) and Ronald Reagan (1981)? Or the assassination of Martin Luther King (1968) and the shootings of presidential candidates Robert F. Kennedy (1968) and George Wallace (1972)? All of those attacks sadly pre-dated talk radio and the 24/7 news cycle.

And there is not a shred of evidence that the accused killer, Loughner, ever engaged in or listened to vitriolic political debate. Do you honestly believe that if he had been denied a lawful gun permit or failed a background check that this would have prevented him from getting his hands on a deadly weapon? Accept the fact that he was a mentally deranged psychopath.

The next time either you or the mayor feel the impulse to call a press conference, following a tragedy like Tucson, to advance your own political views do us all a favor: Lead us in prayer and a period of mourning and quiet reflection.

Forget the politics.

The Hon. Robert J. Lunn served for 14 years (1995 to 2008) on the New York State Supreme Court, his last three as an associate justice of the Appellate Division of the Second and Fourth Departments. He is a partner at Trevett, Cristo, Salzer and Andolina. Lunn is the contributing author to three publications from West Publishing, the most recent being The Companion Handbook for Pattern Jury Instructions. He can be reached at rlunn@