TED ROBBINS: This is Ted Robbins. I've lived in Tucson for 25 years. People here are used to border issues and immigration, but the city has traditionally considered itself a bit immune to the controversy that swirls around the state capitol in Phoenix. So a lot of people are wondering what would make someone here hate enough to shoot 20 people.
Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik thinks he knows, at least in part. Dupnik, a Democrat, blames right-wing talk radio, TV and Internet activity fomenting anti-government sentiment.
Sheriff CLARENCE DUPNIK (Pima County, Arizona): The rhetoric about hatred, about mistrust of government, about paranoia of how government operates has impact on people, especially who are unbalanced personalities to begin with.
ROBBINS: Dupnik also opposes Arizona's lenient gun laws. It's one of only three states which allow concealed weapons without permits or training.
Sheriff DUPNIK: I have never been a proponent of letting everybody in this state carry weapons under any circumstances that they want. And that's almost where we are.
ROBBINS: But some of Gabrielle Giffords' constituents I talked with at a Starbucks next to a supermarket much like the one where the attack occurred weren't so sure that mattered.
Mr. AL CHESSER (Former Tucson Police Officer): I just don't see that as contributing to the incident.
ROBBINS: Al Chesser is a retired Tucson police officer.
Mr. CHESSER: This is an individual that would have found a way to do harm one way or another.
ROBBINS: Chesser is a Republican who likes Giffords personally. But he voted for her opponent last fall, Tea Party Republican Jesse Kelly. Giffords barely won the election, a third term in this swing district with land along the border and pockets of deep conservatism, but with most of its population in more moderate Tucson.
The real question I had for Chesser and others here is: What does the attack mean? What does it say about this area?
Mr. CHESSER: Well, I really don't think it says anything about the district or about Arizona. It's not an isolated incident in the sense that these things -you know, how often do we turn on the evening news and find a similar story?
ROBBINS: That doesn't mean Chesser is discounting what happened.
Mr. CHESSER: People all over here are still reeling from this. This guy would have probably done the same thing if he'd lived in Colorado or New Jersey.
ROBBINS: Maybe, but right now, Arizona is the topic of endless commentary and criticism.
Mr. COREY FERRUGIA: I think, obviously, it can happen anywhere, and it does.
ROBBINS: Corey Ferrugia sat nearby reading a book, which may have been an antidote to his mood - a self-help business book on manifesting positive things in your life.
Mr. FERRUGIA: It's a really, really sad thing for me. I'm a Tucson native and, you know, to see this scene in, like, national news has been very, very sad.
ROBBINS: Ferrugia co-owns a fledgling music school. He's a registered independent, who met and voted for Giffords, yet he agrees the attack says little about Tucson. He just can't believe it happened here.
Mr. FERRUGIA: It's a very close-to-home kind of feeling. And that's - if anything, it's a shock, you know, in probably the most humbling way, you know.
ROBBINS: Tanya Davis sat on a bench drinking chai and feeding her 18-month-old daughter Sophie. Davis is a Democrat and Giffords supporter. While she agrees it was an isolated incident by a disturbed individual, she says it might have been prevented.
Ms. TANYA DAVIS: You know, it sounds like it might have be a result of not having enough resources for people with mental health issues, but I don't feel like it's directly, from what I understand, related to the politics here.
ROBBINS: It may affect politics here, depending on Gabrielle Giffords' prognosis. She is still in critical condition on a ventilator and in a medically induced coma at University Medical Center in Tucson. Her doctors say she is alive largely because she got surgery quickly and because the bullet entered and exited only one side of her brain, limiting damage.
Chief of trauma surgery, Dr. Peter Rhee, says it's a good sign that she's been responsive to directions before and after surgery.
Dr. PETER RHEE (Chief of Trauma Surgery, University Medical Center): We'll ask her: Show me two fingers. That takes specific brain power to do. So, she was able to give us that, and that was enough for us to know that she's alive inside there and that she's not dead, and that was what gave us so much optimism.
ROBBINS: Dr. Rhee cautioned, though, that Giffords faces many possible complications, including infection. Even if she survives, it could be weeks or months before doctors know the extent of any disabilities.
Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.