As someone who knew Gabrielle Giffords before the Tucson shooting, I am a great admirer of hers. She was one of the bright young lights in American politics until a gunman shot and seriously wounded her and killed six others.

Before that day, she was a congresswoman who had it all: A keen intellect. An endearing personality. And the drive to reach the mountaintop.

After editorial board meetings with her, I used to tell colleagues she could be president someday.

That no longer is possible, but she has heroically recovered from a horrific, life-altering gunshot wound to use her talents to fight one of this country’s greatest scourges – gun violence.

I’ve had my differences with the gun-reform group she and her supporters created, but I respect the Giffords organization as a serious movement to make her tragedy mean something.

So, I say this with some sadness, that the Giffords people were wrong when they blamed San Bernardino, Calif. Sheriff’s deputies for shooting an autistic teenager on Saturday.

On Wednesday, this is what they tweeted out:

“Ryan Gainer, a 15-year-old boy with autism was shot to death by a San Bernardino County deputy this past weekend after his family called for help. No mental health crisis should be turned deadly by police violence. This was preventable.”

In three sentences, Giffords' organization had blamed the sheriff’s office for the violence and asserted they could have prevented Saturday’s shooting.

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That ultimately may turn out to be true, but at 12:16 p.m. on Wednesday when the Giffords organization tweeted it, they didn’t know that, nor did anyone else.

After watching the body cam footage of the arriving officer, it looks like he had mere seconds to assess the situation before taking action to possibly save his own life.

I agree with the Giffords organization that Ryan Gainer, a boy suffering from the neurodevelopmental effects of autism, is a tragic figure in this case.

But it looks like the moment a deputy arrived at his front door, the young man rapidly turned a corner inside his house and was quickly walking, then running directly toward the deputy while wielding a bladed instrument – a 5-foot-long garden tool.

That meant police had to take action instantly to protect themselves.

The deputy began moving back, but the boy kept coming. There was virtually no time to assess what he had in his hand. It could have been an axe or a pick-axe or any variety of potentially lethal instruments.

The Giffords organization describes this as a mental health crisis, and that it was. But it was also a violent crime in process.

Deputies called to the scene were told the young man had already assaulted his sister and was breaking glass in the house, the Los Angeles Times reported.

When the first two deputies arrived at the house, and the young man approached aggressively, both the deputy at the door and the second deputy outside pointed their guns at the teenager.

At least one of them fired shots, hitting the boy three times, The Times reports.

This case is being investigated and will likely be litigated, but until there is a thorough investigation, we won’t know for sure whether the police erred in some reckless and unlawful way.

The Giffords organization is right to put a spotlight on mental illness and to challenge us to rethink police approaches to violent episodes posed by people who are mentally ill.

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But there won't be any simple solution to this problem. Many of the violent crimes committed each year involve people suffering some form of mental illness.

It might work to send mental health experts first to these scenes, but that will end the first time one of them gets killed because they weren't equipped to deal with the law-enforcement dimensions of the call. Thus, solutions will be complex.

San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus reacted to the shooting, saying, “our social safety net for those experiencing mental illness needs to be strengthened,” reported the San Bernardino Sun.

“Most of these calls do not end in violence,” he said. “However, this one ended in tragedy for Ryan, his family, and for the deputies who responded. Rapidly evolving, violent encounters are some of the most difficult, requiring split-second decisions.”

Note his comment – this event was tragic for both the family and the officers.

The decisions his deputies must make sometimes "are awful in terms of our humanity,” Dicus said. “I feel for both Ryan’s family and my deputies who will struggle with this for their entire lives.”

Phil Boas is an editorial columnist for The Arizona Republic. Email him at phil.boas@arizonarepublic.com.

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Giffords’ gun control group places blame on attacked deputy

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15.03.2024

As someone who knew Gabrielle Giffords before the Tucson shooting, I am a great admirer of hers. She was one of the bright young lights in American politics until a gunman shot and seriously wounded her and killed six others.

Before that day, she was a congresswoman who had it all: A keen intellect. An endearing personality. And the drive to reach the mountaintop.

After editorial board meetings with her, I used to tell colleagues she could be president someday.

That no longer is possible, but she has heroically recovered from a horrific, life-altering gunshot wound to use her talents to fight one of this country’s greatest scourges – gun violence.

I’ve had my differences with the gun-reform group she and her supporters created, but I respect the Giffords organization as a serious movement to make her tragedy mean something.

So, I say this with some sadness, that the Giffords people were wrong when they blamed San Bernardino, Calif. Sheriff’s deputies for shooting an autistic teenager on Saturday.

On Wednesday, this is what they tweeted out:

“Ryan Gainer, a 15-year-old boy with autism was shot to death by a San Bernardino County deputy this past weekend after his family........

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