Eleven survivors and family members of victims of the January 2011 shooting in Arizona that nearly killed Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) are criticizing Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) for what they say was a “dismissive and political response” to Tucson shooting survivor Patricia Maisch’s testimony in support of legislation which would close holes in the gun background check system.
In a letter sent to Grassley on Wednesday and obtained by TPM, Retired Colonel Bill Badger, Nancy Bowman, Carol Dorushka, Kenneth Dorushka, Randy Gardner, John Maisch, Patricia Maisch, Angela Robbinson, Faith Salzgeber, Foger Salzgeber and Mavy Stoddard write of their “profound disappointment” with Grassley’s “obvious disregard for the gun violence survivors in the room” as well as his “apparent ignorance of the deadly serious issue we came to discuss with you.”
A spokeswoman from Grassley told TPM that the Iowa Republican “heard the concerns of the victims from Ms. Maisch’s testimony and he understands the impact of gun violence on all victims.” She said Grassley would respond to the victims when he receives the letter.
Grassley had used the hearing on the Fix Gun Checks Act to press FBI official David Cuthbertson about the controversy surrounding Fast and Furious. He also warned that the proposed legislation “could have serious side effects,” suggesting that a family member of a victim of the Sept. 11 attacks who received mental health counseling could lose their Second Amendment rights under the new legislation.
“Isn’t it possible that this bill will become a new deterrent for those who need mental health counseling because they’re afraid to seek it for fear of losing their Second Amendment rights?” Grassley asked.
The eleven survivors and family members of victims of the attack told Grassley that it was “inappropriate” for him to turn the hearing into a forum to ask questions about an unrelated inquiry.
“We were not there to discuss Fast & Furious. The other witnesses were not there to discuss Fast and Furious. Our experiences have nothing to do with Fast and Furious. But you did not seem to care,” they wrote.
“Rather than dealing with the subject of the hearing — how the background check system can be improved to spare other families the pain that we have suffered — you chose to employ a tactic of callous, cold and calculated distraction,” they continued.
“Senator, were you listening when Patricia told you about Dorothy Morris, Dorwan Stoddard, Phyllis Schneck, the Honorable John Roll of the United States District Court of Arizona, Gabe Zimmerman or Christina-Taylor Green? Nothing you had to say indicated you were. The fact that you were focused on your Blackberry during much of Patricia’s testimony suggests you weren’t.”
The group ends the letter by asking Grassley to apologize to the members of the group who “lost loved ones in Tucson, and made the effort to come to Washington yesterday, but heard nothing of use from you.”
In a statement to TPM, Grassley’s office said he asked questions about Fast and Furious because he “gave his word” to the family of murdered Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry that he “would take every opportunity to question officials who might have information about the program, and to ensure that there are not more victims of gun violence as a result of the government’s flawed policies.”
“It’s Senator Grassley’s duty, as a U.S. Senator from Iowa, to protect the constitutional rights of his constituents,” spokeswoman Beth Levine said. ”Since the hearing was about firearms legislation that has serious flaws and constitutional concerns, Senator Grassley focused many of his questions on the topic of the hearing.”
Levine added that it was “unfortunate that the members of the committee, including those who invited the witnesses to the hearing, did not address verbal questions to the victim.” She said Grassley will submit written questions to the witnesses.