Giffords Friend Tom Zoellner Releases Book A Safeway in Arizona

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Tom Zoellner, an Arizona-raised author and former newspaper writer who's been critically recognized for his works on uranium and diamonds, has written a deeply personal book about the January 8, 2011, shooting of Arizona's U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (and 18 other people, six of whom were killed) at a public event on the north edge of Tucson. 

Zoellner has known Giffords since she was a state legislator, and he returned to southern Arizona to work on her 2006 Congressional campaign.

Zoellner will appear at Tempe's Changing Hands Bookstore on Monday, January 9, to speak about and sign A Safeway in Arizona (Viking Adult, $26.95), which came out in hardcover on Thursday, December 29.

In 11 chapters and 263 pages, Zoellner ably recounts the documented events of that horrible morning and then moves on to some relatable confessions about his own outsider adolescence in the desert suburbs, his friendship with Giffords and her family, and his acknowledged subjective (but exhaustively fact-based) perceptions about such special Arizona circumstances as sprawl, land booms, gun worship, urban isolation, and sketchy support of public mental healthcare. As the youngest of the contiguous states, about to celebrate its centennial, we remain a young society, packed with recent arrivals with short memories as well as opportunists eager to start over and milk our growth for what they can in the short term.

While investigators generally concluded that delusional shooter Jared Lee Loughner, who has been diagnosed schizophrenic while in custody, wasn't directly motivated to violence by radical conservative thought and media (nasty-spirited though they can be), Zoellner still decries the climate of rudeness and extremism that suffuses public discourse.

As most people who are assaulted and killed by others are the victims of people they know, it's natural and tempting to think that, when a friend or loved one is the victim of a stranger, the whole incident could have been prevented somehow.
In reality, Loughner's pathology would likely have eventually led him to harm someone else if he hadn't made it to Congress on Your Corner last winter. Better gun laws might have merely decreased his total. And, even though Arizona desperately needs better mental health services in general, we should probably think twice before implementing Minority Report-style profiling to discover which contentedly psychotic people are a potential danger to others.

Zoellner's understandable search for someone or something to hold responsible goes so far as to detail the work of a particular political talk-radio host in Tucson (and the phenomenon in general). Given that Zoellner cites listenership for any 20 minutes of the show at 8,450 of Tucson's 836,000 people over 12 years old (Arbitron), its direct influence is a questionable factor. However, his point seems to be that a pervasive black-and-white approach to issues produces easy targets for people who crave easy answers, and I think we have to give him that one.

Overall, A Safeway in Arizona's exploration of its issues is appealingly candid and thought-provoking, and Zoellner's perspective on this state and what we've made of it, as well as Giffords' enviable relationship with most of her constituents, constitutes a gripping story that presents a side of the whole mess you're not likely to find elsewhere.

Stay tuned for a Q&A with Zoellner tomorrow. 

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