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New York Congressman Joe Crowley, the Democratic colleague and personal friend of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was stunned by her shooting and the massacre that occurred in her Tucson district on Saturday.

“Like most Americans I found out on Saturday afternoon and I was aghast by the whole thing,” he told the Irish Voice.

“It was totally shocking and very foreign to see one of our legislators coming under attack. But to see it happen to someone I’ve been very friendly with over the last five years was shocking in a personal sense.”

Crowley endorsed Giffords early on in her first race for Congress in 2006, and the two have been close friends ever since.

“We work closely together and we belong to the same coalition in the house, the new Democratic Caucus. My last conversation with her was on Friday, the day before she was shot. I had lunch with her on Thursday,” Crowley added.

Initial reports on Saturday claimed that Giffords had been shot and killed, which had stunned Crowley. “You run the gamut of emotions when you hear a report like that. Now we’re still working through getting all the information we can about the shooter’s possible motivations and why he did what he did,” said Crowley.

Commentators have claimed that the overheated rhetoric that informs much of the country’s political debates may have played a part, but Crowley is cautious to point the finger.

“I don’t think there’s any question that people have been reflecting on the level of rhetoric,” said Crowley. “It’s not the first time that people have brought this up.

“I don’t think it should be taken as a wake-up because people have been lamenting the vitriolic tone in politics, and I think the recent elections were demonstrative of that as well.”

But Crowley was at pains not to over-emphasize the rhetoric debate because, he said, politicians have always used war terminology.

“You know, we’re going to battle them, we’re going to put all our troops out. Those are the kinds of jargon that we’ve used throughout history,” Crowley said.

“But in recent years in the state of Arizona there has been a heightened sense of it with immigration reform and health care bill that passed, and Gabby herself was concerned about it.”

Crowley got to witness first hand how raw some political debates have become in Giffords’ home state of Arizona.

“I was invited by Gabby to an event in Pima County in Arizona, and the stress and tension was higher than in my own district in New York,” he said.

The important question that Giffords’ shooting poses, says Crowley, is how can our system fail us so that a person who is mentally unstable is able to purchase and posses a semiautomatic Glock with extended rounds? “How that can happen in the modern world we live in is just beyond me,” he said.

Crowley admits he would personally choose not to live in an environment where it’s legal to openly carry high-powered firearms. “What state would not want to regulate that a person who is purchasing a weapon is mentally stable?” he asked.

Crowley has been in touch with Giffords’ staff but he has not yet contacted her husband or family directly. “I don’t think this is the time to reach out. They are getting the counseling and the help that they need. Their focus is on Gabby and her health and recovery,” he said.

In regard to his own security, Crowley has taken no new measure in the light of the shootings.

“I don’t feel threatened. I have not reviewed my own security and I don’t want to talk about my own career at this time. I think Gabby had it right when she described her own job,” Crowley said.

“She said a representative is not just a title, it’s a job description, and it’s what we do. We have to be approachable, it’s central to our democracy and that must be maintained.”

Read more: Gabrielle Giffords’ love story with husband Mark Kelly

Read more: Time to stop the hate rhetoric after Gabrielle Giffords shooting

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords