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.''
Harper said it is irrelevant whether U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was conducting a "Congress on Your Corner'' event at the Foothills Mall, requested security or even formally notified the sheriff's department about it.
"It was his jurisdiction for law enforcement,'' Harper said.
"He is passing the buck,'' Harper continued. "He has not done his job and he is blaming others.''
Harper was not the only one lashing out at the sheriff.
Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, took particular offense to some comments made by Dupnik both about the ability of any adult to carry a concealed weapon and well as his conclusion that Arizona has "become the mecca of prejudice and bigotry.''
Melvin said "the Left'' is trying to make the shooting into a political issue.
"It's a mental disorder problem,'' the senator said. "And I think the sheriff of Pima County ought to stop and think about that one a little bit.''
Melvin said Dupnik's job is to investigate the shooting.
"Leave the political commentary alone and let's have prayer and not politics, at least for a little while,'' Melvin said.
A press aide for Dupnik said he would not respond, saying he was too busy with other interviews. No one from Giffords' office was available to say whether she had asked for security or even formally informed the sheriff's department of the event.
The shooting has raised various questions about both Arizona's gun laws and what some have said is overheated political rhetoric that can inflame those who are not mentally stable.
Dupnik, a Democrat, stepped in the middle of that battle, pointing to a change in Arizona law just last year that allows any adult to carry a concealed weapon.
Arizona always has allowed people to have weapons as long as they were visible. Those that sought to have them under a coat or in a purse had to get a state permit which required a background check as well as get training.
That requirement disappeared last summer.
"I have never been a proponent of letting everybody in this state carry weapons under any circumstances that they want,'' Dupnik said this weekend in the wake of the shooting. "And that's almost where we are.''
The sheriff also weighed in on the level of political discourse.
"The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous,'' he said. "Unfortunately, Arizona, I think has become sort of the capital.''
Melvin said those kind of comments are inappropriate.
"He's from the Democratic Party and he's trying to score some political points here,'' Melvin said.
"His job is to solve the criminal case, not to get involved in flaming the fire here,'' he continued. "He's throwing gasoline here on a very volatile situation and, out of respect for the dead and the wounded, just do his job and solve the case and leave the political discourse, give it a rest.''
Harper's criticism of Dupnik appears to be focused more on the sheriff's comments about concealed weapons.
The legislator was a key supporter of last year's measure to eliminate the requirement to obtain a state permit to carry a concealed weapon.
"He is singling out the bill,'' Harper said of the sheriff's comments about letting anyone have a hidden weapon.
"In fact, it was his jurisdiction for law enforcement,'' Harper continued. "He should have had a law enforcement officer there.''
This year, Harper is sponsoring legislation to let faculty and students at state universities who still decide to get a permit -- it remains an option -- to carry their concealed guns onto campus.
Newly elected Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, a Republican like Harper and Melvin, also waded into the controversy.
In a prepared statement Monday , Montgomery did not refer to Dupnik or anyone else. But he called it "equally unwise and premature to try and draw systemic solutions'' from this single incident.
"The more responsible course of action is to wait until all available information has been evaluated before we determine what, if anything, could be done from a system response standpoint to prevent a recurrence of this kind of tragedy,'' Montgomery said. "However, the unfortunate reality is that if an individual single-mindedly commits themselves to a criminal action, there is little anyone can do to stop it.''