WASHINGTON - A Georgia Republican on Monday criticized Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik for linking Saturday's shooting in Arizona with hostile political rhetoric.
Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah said there is no evidence the shooting was politically motivated. Instead, it simply looks like the work of a deranged gunman, he said.
"I don't see any link whatsoever at this point between vitriolic discourse and someone plowing down his fellow citizens," Kingston said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "I think frankly it's irresponsible of the sheriff to say that."
Kingston also questioned whether Dupnik might have missed signs that the suspect in the shooting, Jared Loughner, would engage in violence given Loughner's history of suspicious behavior.
"This incident happened under the jurisdiction of the local police," he said. "If the local jurisdiction knew about this guy, there's a question to me of this sheriff who's so quick to condemn vitriolic political discourse ... how come he missed it?"
Dupnik suggested over the weekend that hostile political rhetoric may have played a role in the tragedy, questioning how unbalanced people respond to "the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government."
Kingston, a 10-term congressman, said he agrees that political leaders shouldn't be inflaming divisions and instigating hostility. But he also said contentious discourse is healthy for democracy, and he cautioned against new congressional security measures that might separate lawmakers from constituents.
He said members of Congress have always contended with hostile constituents, most of whom are harmless.
"I just don't know how you can look at these people and figure out which one of these nuts is harmful and which ones aren't," he said. "It's healthy for the system to let people vent, let them go to the town meeting and raise hell."
Kingston said local law enforcement agencies are responsible for security at district events and, in his experience, are usually happy to provide officers when asked.