To place the Tucson shooting in a broader context, we speak to Dr. Richard Carmona, a public health professor at the University of Arizona. He served more than 20 years at the Pima County Sheriff’s Department and was the U.S. Surgeon General under George W. Bush. Carmona addresses the issues of mental health, gun laws, and how the nation should cope in the face of fear and tragedy. “We need to stop the partisan bickering, blaming each side of the aisle,” Carmona says. “Thoughtful people, in an adult manner, need to sit down and tackle these very difficult problems. And after all, that’s what these elected officials have been elected for: to make good decisions on behalf of the citizens.” [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Dr. Richard Carmona, former U.S. surgeon general under President George W. Bush, now professor of public health at University of Arizona, served over 20 years at the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.
We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Dr. Carmona. First, your reaction to what has taken place?
DR. RICHARD CARMONA: Well, like most of the community, I am devastated. I know many of the people. Gabrielle Giffords is a good friend of mine. I’ve known her for years. I know her family. The judge, I know and work with. His children went to school with my children in the same high school. So there’s a lot of personal connections. But bigger than that is just the devastation it’s brought to the community, the loss of innocence, the loss of a sense of security in your own community. And it’s something we’re going to have to deal with, you know, for the foreseeable future as we heal from this very terrible tragedy.
AMY GOODMAN: You’ve heard the discussion we’ve been having for this hour, talking about the cuts in mental health, talking about the gun laws. Now, you are — you’re the former surgeon general of the United States. You served under President Bush. You were his appointee. The assault weapons ban sunsetted under President Bush. What are your thoughts about your gun laws?
DR. RICHARD CARMONA: Well, I think we need some thoughtful people around the table. Clearly, we want to make sure that anybody who owns a weapon legally has the appropriate training, education, and that we can be assured that society is safe with a person who owns a weapon. We do the same thing for automobiles or any other technology, if you will, that the average citizen gets to use. We ensure that they can use it safely, because we always have to look at the greater good of society. So I think that, you know, we need to stop the partisan bickering, blaming each side of the aisle. Thoughtful people, in an adult manner, need to sit down and tackle these very difficult problems. And after all, that’s what these elected officials have been elected for: to make good decisions on behalf of the citizens.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is most important to move forward on now in terms of legislation or in repealing legislation?
DR. RICHARD CARMONA: Well, first and foremost, I mean, rather than just focus on just the weapons, I think we need to first start healing from this extraordinary tragedy that has clouded our community. And it’s going to take a while. As we move forward, I believe that we need to begin a thoughtful dialogue with elected officials, with community leaders, and address many of these issues that are germane to the problem we had — the issue of mental health, the issue of weapon ownership, the issue of where weapons can be carried. All of those things are very, very important. And there are no right answers. These debates change over time as society evolves. But again, thoughtful people in a nonpartisan manner need to tackle these very difficult problems and come up with the best solutions in a very complex society, which we hold dear, which is a democratic society where people have a diversity of opinions.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Carmona, you work in the sheriff’s department under Sheriff Dupnik. He has raised this issue repeatedly in his news conferences and on Democracy Now! yesterday, that Arizona is the “tombstone of the United States of America” when it comes to gun laws. And he talked about it being the mecca of prejudice and hate with the level of vitriol and hatred in the discourse on television, on radio, and particularly on the stations in Arizona. Do you share his view? And how would you change it?
DR. RICHARD CARMONA: Well, first and foremost, let me say there are few public servants at the level of Sheriff Dupnik, who has served over half a century as a police officer in this community. He is deeply wounded himself from what happened. I’ve seen the tears shed. I’ve been with him as he painfully reviewed what had happened in his own jurisdiction. So this is not only a law enforcement officer; this is a citizen speaking with emotion that really is something he’s never experienced before in his whole life.
For me, my vantage point is in several areas. I have been in this community for over a quarter of a century. I was the first trauma director and started this trauma service here. So I know the EMS system and the trauma system, and I’ve seen a lot of the preventable tragedies that have happened in the last25 years in this community. I’ve been a police officer in this community. I’ve been a professor at the university. And last but not least, I’ve been surgeon general of the United States and been able to take a broader view of national and global health and security issues, so that my vantage point is a unique one.
I understand the Sheriff’s emotion. I understand how he was almost reaching out in grief to try and warn the people that we must stop this vitriolic, divided discussion and come around and heal, and that this time in our lives, after this very terrible tragedy, is a time that we should begin this healing process and respect the civil society, address each other with dignity and respect, and agree to disagree, but let’s do it in a professional manner. I think that’s what the Sheriff was saying, and that’s what I agree needs to occur from this point on.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think, well, maps with your district in the crosshairs, that Sarah Palin put out, or Jesse Kelly saying bring your M16 and target — talking about the targeting and referring to Congressmember Giffords, are problems?
DR. RICHARD CARMONA: I think the divisive rhetoric is a problem. To single out a single person probably doesn’t make much sense. The fact of the matter is that both sides of the aisle use inflammatory rhetoric to get their opinions across. And I think, in a civil society, we need to tone that down. And again, I think that’s the message that the Sheriff was trying to emit, even though it was in a passionate plea, because he was so hurt and wounded himself.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Carmona, we have to leave it there. I thank you so much for being with us.