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In Wake of Giffords Shooting, Will the Arizona Legislature Continue to Relax Gun Control Laws?

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Jared Lee Loughner’s first court appearance on Monday happened to coincide with the opening of the new session of the Arizona State Legislature. Among the proposals up for debate in the new legislative session are two measures to loosen Arizona’s already lax gun laws. We speak with Dr. Matt Heinz, a Tucson-based doctor and a member of the Arizona House of Representatives. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We stay in Tucson. Jared Loughner’s first court appearance happened to coincide with the opening of the new session of the Arizona state legislature. The Arizona governor, Jan Brewer, decided to forgo her State of the State speech and instead paid tribute to the victims.

GOV. JAN BREWER: Tragedy and terror sometime comes from the shadows and steal our joy and take away our peace. That happened on Saturday, when a gunman took away people we love, innocent people and outstanding public servants, like United States District Judge John M. Roll. Judge Roll had just come from the light of a Catholic mass and confronted the darkness of a madman. The gunman gravely wounded others, people we love and respect, like Gabby Giffords, my good friend.

This past weekend’s events have caused me, caused all of us, to reflect on many things, including how we respond to those terrible events. First, our response to this tragedy must be led by prayer and comfort for the victims and their families. So, please join me in a moment of silence as we pray for all of those we’ve lost, for the injured and for those who are suffering.

AMY GOODMAN: Governor Brewer then honored the 20-year-old college student Daniel Hernandez, an intern on Giffords’ staff, who’s widely credited with saving her life by tending to her gunshot wounds.

GOV. JAN BREWER: Daniel Hernandez, a University of Arizona junior, showed no fear in the face of gunfire. His quick action in going to Gabby Giffords’ aid likely saved her life. Daniel is here today, and I’m going to ask him to stand and receive the thanks of a very grateful state.

AMY GOODMAN: It was Hernandez’s fifth day on the job as an intern on Giffords’ staff. He’s been interviewed on all the networks, but what isn’t talked about as much is Daniel Hernandez is an openly gay Latino activist, a member of Tucson’s City Commission on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Issues.

Among the proposals up for debate in the new legislative session are two measures to loosen Arizona’s already lax gun laws. One bill, H2014, would prevent schools from barring concealed weapons on campuses for gun owners with permits. Another, H2001, would specifically allow college faculty members to carry concealed weapons on campus.

We’re joined from Tucson now by Dr. Matt Heinz, a Tucson-based physician. He was sworn into the Arizona state legislature Monday for his second term as a Democratic member. Dr. Heinz is a friend of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Dr. Heinz, welcome to Democracy Now! Your thoughts today on Gabby Giffords, who is not far from where you are now in the hospital in critical condition, and on being sworn in to the legislature and what your plans are?

DR. MATT HEINZ: Certainly. And thank you for having me.

These circumstances are really not ones that I’d prefer to be interviewed under, I think as everyone would agree. However, yesterday was and continues to be a surreal experience, the opening day of the session. During my time sitting there waiting to take the oath of office, I really could only think about returning to Tucson to my community to be near Gabby and the families and friends of all of those who were so affected by the tragedy on Saturday.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Heinz, you’re a doctor as well as a legislator, and you’re a friend of Congressmember Giffords. Explain briefly, if you will, what state she is in now. We know she’s in critical condition in the ICU, in intensive care, the bullet having gone through the left side of her brain but not crossing the hemispheres, which is very important.

DR. MATT HEINZ: That is correct. And I will just preface these comments with the fact that I have no additional privileged knowledge beyond what we’ve heard in the press conferences. However, she continues to be in — sedated, chemically so, with medications that she’s being given by her medical team for her safety, to aid in her recovery. She is on a breathing machine, on a ventilator, that is breathing for her at this time. She has had, of course, surgery to remove damaged tissue from the affected area of the brain, which fortunately was a very minimal amount, according to her surgeons that we’ve heard from. And we, at this point, are waiting for swelling, which always occurs in these sorts of injuries, to diminish, which it appears to be, according to her medical team, over the past three days. And that is excellent.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re both a doctor and you’re a member of the House of Representatives of Arizona. Can you talk about the gun laws —

DR. MATT HEINZ: That’s correct.

AMY GOODMAN: — and whether you will be trying to change them? And explain what they are.

DR. MATT HEINZ: Sure. And the — you’re referring to the two — those two specific bills you mentioned. Again, the session just started literally yesterday. There have been no committees, no hearings. No bills have been actually heard officially at this time. I would say, at least broadly, the discussion, I think, is for loosening regulations on our already rather lax gun laws in the state, I believe. I don’t think it’s time for that kind of discussion. And especially with regard to House bill 2001, I just — I think it’s just entirely inappropriate to even be broaching that topic right now, and I hope that the sponsor would be willing to withdraw this to another time, where it could be more properly debated.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re saying, because you don’t want to raise — this is the one in school, that students and professors should be able to carry guns in school?

DR. MATT HEINZ: Right, concealed weapons on college, community college and university campuses by faculty.

AMY GOODMAN: And the law that is already in effect that allows people to carry concealed weapons without a permit, is there a discussion of that being repealed?

DR. MATT HEINZ: I have not heard one to this point. This was — during my first two years in the legislature, this was one of the efforts that many folks in the gun lobby were very — pushed very hard to remove the requirement to have any sort of permit or training to be allowed to carry a concealed weapon. And also a law was pushed through the legislature that allows for folks to bring a concealed weapon into a bar or a restaurant, which I certainly take exception to, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Your understanding of the climate? It’s something that your friend, Congressmember Gabby Giffords, was deeply concerned about, obviously. Congressmember Moran said she had raised her concern about the level of vitriolic language, hate. She already had the glass door of her office either shot in or somehow broken after the healthcare vote.


AMY GOODMAN: She said she was concerned about coming back to Arizona.

DR. MATT HEINZ: That is right. And, you know, this is — this really isn’t new. During the campaign, at a particular forum, as I recall, at one particular event, there was a — I believe a weapon fell out of somebody’s pocket, which, again, is not illegal to be carrying a weapon, but this issue has surrounded particularly Congresswoman Giffords for some time now. And in her own words, as we’ve been seeing replayed on virtually all the networks, regarding some of the vitriol, some of the way that the discussion during the campaign was framed, she was calling into — calling attention to it and expressing her very — her concerns about the consequences that could result from such discussion and discourse.

AMY GOODMAN: There’s a lot of discussion about the extreme right-wing climate of Arizona. Even the sheriff, Dupnik, we spoke to him yesterday, and he talked about, in his press conference, Arizona being a mecca of prejudice and hate. You’re an openly gay legislator, one of a handful. It’s interesting — Danny Hernandez, who has gotten so much attention, the hero who may well have saved Congressmember Giffords’ life, I have seen him interviewed nonstop on Fox, on all of the networks, but I have not seen him identified as an openly gay LBGT activist. Those are his politics on campus at the University of Arizona. Can you talk about that?

DR. MATT HEINZ: Certainly. And to be honest, I believe this is the first time I’ve been identified thusly. It’s not — Arizona is a very independent state, and that’s — it doesn’t seem to be as big of an issue as perhaps folks in the rest of the nation might think. It’s really not come up in any of my own campaigns, and it has not come up in any way in my time in the legislature. And I know Daniel Hernandez very well; I worked with him on a piece of legislation that we were able to successfully push through and have signed by the governor, which is quite difficult. And these — you know, the issue regarding his sexuality, my own, that’s not really ever been a problem here in Tucson, certainly, and in Phoenix in the legislature, either.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the budget cuts, what H. Clarke Romans was just talking about. I think after the budget cuts July 1st, what was the figure going up for people who were seeking help in Arizona? The figure, the number of seriously mentally ill patients needing crisis services at the Southern Arizona Mental Health Corporation went up by 123 percent by July 1st. Will this be reopened, especially with Jan Brewer, the Governor, dealing with her own son, who’s been in a state institution for decades?

DR. MATT HEINZ: And that is an excellent question. I think that this really does frame the discussion of the budget cuts regarding the behavioral health system and our Medicaid system, which is called Access [AHCCCS] here. It’s so important to address that, in fact, some of the proposed cuts that we were hearing going into the session would affect 250,000 individuals who presently have access to care through our Medicaid program, including 5,200 individuals who are severe mentally impaired, who would then lose access to care. And that is something that I believe we must address and do our best to avoid. And I hope that, with the Governor’s own life experience in her own family, that we can rely on her as an ally to prevent such destructive cuts, that could certainly lead to an increase in unstable individuals, behaviorally disturbed individuals in our community, not being able to get the services they need to protect themselves and others in the community, honestly.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Matt Heinz, I want to thank you for being with us. He is a doctor based in Tucson and just sworn in again to his second term as member of the Arizona House of Representatives.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, President George W. Bush’s surgeon general. We’ll be speaking with Richard Carmona. He lives in Tucson.

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Dr. Richard Carmona: Nonpartisan Solutions Needed in Wake of Tucson Tragedy

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