Just hours after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, was shot in the head by a crazed gunman, Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik — addressing the media for the first time — made headlines for saying that “vitriolic political rhetoric” heard on the radio and TV caused Jared Loughner to go on a bloody killing spree that left six dead and 14 wounded.

“When the rhetoric about hatred, about mistrust of government, about paranoia of how government operates, and to try to inflame the public on a daily basis, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it has impact on people especially who are unbalanced personalities,” Dupnik said Saturday night. 

The sheriff, a Democrat who has served as the county’s top cop for 31 years, angered many with the remarks — including some of his friends, who felt his editorializing had no part in a news conference, typically reserved for impersonal facts and details.

Sheriff Larry Dever of  Arizona’s Cochise County, which borders Dupnik’s, says he considers Dupnik a close friend and mentor but can’t understand what drove his latest comments.  

But Dever added that he knows that Dupnik is very angry about the shootings and was close friends with the federal judge killed and with Giffords.

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