TUCSON AFTER THE SHOOTING: To go or not to go?

by Eric Lucas

It was just an ordinary neighborhood Safeway until a heavily armed lunatic showed up with a pistol. What happened next was disastrous.

I’m speaking, of course, of our local Safeway in Ballard, Washington, where I live—but you thought I was talking about the store in the Tucson foothills where an unbalanced young American gunned down six people and tried to assassinate a U.S. congresswoman. What happened at the Ballard Safeway was “milder” but in its own way illuminating, and the irony struck me because both places are well known to me. I visit Tucson a half-dozen times a year and wrote a guide to the city for a major global internet site. I am very fond of both places. I buy great heaps of toilet paper at the Ballard Safeway; at the Tucson Safeway, I help out my dad by loading up sacks of salt for his water softener.

You know what happened at the latter store, so let me describe the scene at the Seattle one when a member of the “open-carry” movement decided to saunter about one day last year. These are Americans who believe the way to assert the right to carry firearms is to, well, do so, even when you are shopping for toilet paper. Who knows when a TP bandit may strike? So Messr. Six-Gun clumped around, pistol strapped to his thigh, severely alarming everyone in the store. Our neighborhood is not a gun-totin’ place. He departed without shooting anyone, preventively or otherwise, but the incident provoked a storm of controversy on the chat-boards at our neighborhood website. Hundreds of comments flew back and forth; about 80 percent wanted to vote Mr. S.G. off the island.

Ballard is a wonderful place and I urge all to come visit—great restaurants, nice people, fresh salt air off Puget Sound, and believe me, you are very, very unlikely to be shot.

I’d say much the same for Tucson.

Lost in the coverage of the Tucson catastrophe is the fact the city is a marvelous place to visit. Its cuisine includes a unique local specialty, the Sonoran hot dog, which uses onions and chiles to meld ballpark frankfurters with North Mexico culinary styles. Its many first-class resorts include one of America’s finest spas, Canyon Ranch, and a distinctive selection of family-owned guest ranches. The Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum is among the world’s leading natural history facilities. Tucson’s cultural climate makes it Arizona’s most progressive community. It’s the heart of the Sonoran Desert, a lovely and interesting Southwestern landscape that is surprisingly lush because, even though it’s an arid ecosystem, it has two distinct rainy seasons a year.

In and around Tucson, tall saguaros bend desert sunsets into postcards, bobcats and roadrunners scout the underbrush, hummingbirds buzz, and thunderstorms climb the 9,700-foot heights of the Santa Catalina Mountains. City and county codes curb outdoor lighting, so the night sky is a blaze of stars. Water conservation measures restrict lawns, so most homes have desert landscaping that encourages all the wildlife, especially in the outskirts, where the majority of resorts are.

Now that Tucson is infamous for a horrible crime, I find myself mulling the reflexive human urge to impose banishment on people and places we find unacceptable. When Arizona adopted its atrocious illegal immigrant law last year, many writers and national organizations embraced a boycott of the state. The effect has been disastrous for the Arizona tourism industry—conventions relocated, bookings down, millions of dollars in revenue lost.

I’m not against boycotts, per se: I won’t buy Exxon gas until the company pays the people of Alaska the billions of dollars it owes them for poisoning Prince William Sound. But a boycott is a black-and-white measure that allows no sophistication and, worse, bars any interchange of understanding.

Tucson, for instance, is as appalled at the Arizona illegal-immigrant law as anyone. The county sheriff has forbidden his deputies to enforce it, and the City Council voted to sue the state to overturn the law. The community is a leading center for development of solar power; Tucson’s University of Arizona is one of America’s greatest educational institutions and includes among its faculty the leading advocate of natural health, Dr. Andrew Weill. If boycott advocates were looking to really vote with their dollars, they would make a point of visiting Tucson.

So then should we boycott Arizona but not Tucson?

That’s cutting this meat rather fine. And now it’s complicated by the assassination, which will surely deter travel more. Yes, it’s ironic that the open-carry movement began in Arizona (maybe someone would have noticed the gunman sooner in Ballard). But in all the debate about political strife no one has posed the real question—what’s wrong with a country where an obviously deranged loser can stroll into a gun store and buy a machine pistol, then wander over to Wal-Mart and get sufficient ammunition to fill a 30-round magazine?

Maybe we should boycott the United States. Oops, we live here (most of us).

I say, please visit Tucson—not to mention Cuba, Libya, China, South Carolina and umpteen other places including Ballard. If you differ with things in Arizona, by all means tell everyone in Tucson, while you are helping their economy, how much you appreciate the city’s progressive nature and you hope they will stick to their convictions. But not their guns. If you do see someone toting a gun, I’d call the police and immediately head to one of the city’s great south side food stands for a Sonoran hot dog.


Visit Eric Lucas online at www.TrailNot4Sissies.com. And leave your guns at home, boys.


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