Thoughts about Ron Barber


by David Safier

Ask Ron Barber to lead on sensible gun policies.

This is a personal rumination, certainly not fact, not even analysis. These are just some thoughts that have been rumbling around in my head since last night.

I went to the memorial service Sunday night held at Roberts-Naylor School. It was a somber, nonpolitical event, as it should have been. Ron Barber was one of the speakers, and what he said was low-key and appropriate.

But something struck me after he finished. There was nothing of the Congressman about him. Barber didn't approach the podium with a sense of personal importance. As he spoke, he wasn't trying to make an impression. He seemed like a guy who had a microphone placed in front of him almost by chance, like he was willingly, but reluctantly, doing something he had been asked to do.

As I followed this thought further, I realized Barber doesn't have politics in his DNA. He was Gabby Giffords' employee and was thrust into the national spotlight on January 8, 2011, then thrust into a far more glaring spotlight when he was urged to run for Gabby's unfinished term. There was a feeling of reluctance on his part when he accepted the assignment. True, he chose to run for a full term, but really, his status as Congressman is more the result of an unusual circumstance than personal choice.

For me, that explains part of Barber's reticence to jump into the middle of the discussion about gun regulation. It's said of some politicians that you risk injury if you get between them and a TV camera. Not so Ron Barber. He doesn't seek the spotlight. If he did, he would know this is his moment to become part of history.

The media craves stories, and he has a story unlike anyone else's in Congress. He was part of, and injured in, one of the shootings that has been on everyone's lips since Friday. His name is permanently attached to Gabby's, who has made her way into our national consciousness and had the nation in tears when she led the Pledge of Allegiance at the Democratic convention. Because of all this, Barber isn't just another freshman Congressman. If he said the word, he could have his pick of shows on MSNBC and CNN, not to mention the Sunday talk shows.

A true politician would jump at the opportunity, but so far, Barber hasn't seemed interested in thrusting himself forward. But he should, not to further his political career or to inflate his ego with all the attention. He should do it because his voice and his actions can be part of saving future lives, part of making this a better, saner nation. If he doesn't care about his place in history, he should care about the good he can do by putting himself in the center of the national conversation.

A religious man in Barber's position might think, There's a reason I was called upon to run for Gabby's seat and a reason I decided to run for a full term. It was so I would have a platform after the horrific shootings in Connecticut, so I could tell my story in the media and on the floor of the House. It was so I could stand behind strong legislation to ban the sale of automatic and semi-automatic weapons, the sale of extended magazines, the sale of weapons at gun shows without background checks, and use my unique story to help get the legislation passed.

Would getting in front of this issue harm Barber's chance at reelection? Even if it did, that shouldn't matter. If he can be instrumental in passing strong gun regulation during his two years in office, that would be two years well spent. But my sense is, if Barber plans to run in 2014, his decision to take a strong, principled stand and to take a lead in pushing gun legislation would earn him the respect of Southern Arizona and put him in a stronger, not a weaker position to win a second term.