The cross-hairs of a gun sight were used in a political ad by Sarah Palin last year on a list of congressional districts to “take back” — including the Arizona district where a weekend shooting left six people dead, 14 hurt, including a Democratic congresswoman. Critics are slamming Palin and the ad but Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, says that’s nonsense.

“The intent of it was just to say politically, we’re going to go after you,” Grassley says. “In 2004, Democrats had similar things on a map for particular states where they were targeting people.” Grassley calls the Arizona shootings a “terrible situation” and says political activists need to stop looking for someone other than the shooter to blame.

“The word ‘targeted’ is part of the lexicon of chairmen of campaign committees, that ‘we’re after so-and-so,’ but they mean politically,” Grassley says. “They don’t mean to harm anybody physically.” The U.S. Senate is in recess this week and next week, so Grassley plans to visit some two-dozen Iowa cities during that time, holding town hall meetings and touring various businesses.

Grassley says the Arizona shootings have not made him rethink his schedule, but he won’t say if he’s beefed up his personal security detail. Grassley says, “The sergeant at arms and capitol police have asked us to not talk about security at all to alert anybody to what might be different or be the same.”

Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords is still listed in critical condition after being shot in the head during Saturday’s event outside a Tucson grocery store. Grassley says Giffords is the type of politician who should be “appreciated” by Iowans, as she’s clearly a free-thinker and votes her mind, not her party.

“She showed tremendous independence from her own party leadership and that was demonstrated just last Wednesday when she voted against (Nancy) Pelosi for Speaker of the House,” Grassley says. “That takes a lot of guts, let me tell you.” While they may’ve exchanged greetings in passing, Grassley says he doesn’t really remember ever having met Giffords.

Grassley’s schedule through next week will take him to: Grinnell, Traer, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Coralville, Independence, Waterloo, Waverly, Parkersburg, Reinbeck, Nevada, Webster City, Iowa Falls, Jefferson, Madrid, Greenfield, Guthrie Center, Perry, Winterset, Pleasant Hill, Lynnville, Knoxville, Osceola, Afton and New Virginia.