Let’s Everybody Calm Down (January 11, 2011)

The image above is certainly incendiary isn’t it? The nation is aflutter, once again, over an unconscionable act of violence that took place over the weekend. On an otherwise lovely Saturday in the parking lot of a Tuscon, Arizona strip mall, a lone gunman, 22 year-old Jared Loughner opened fire on a crowd of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’s constituents, killing six, including a 9 year-old girl born on 9/11/2001. 14 others were wounded, including Ms. Giffords, who suffered a gunshot directly to the brain.

It is a source of comfort to learn from the lawmaker’s medical team that the representative, famous for her accessible “Congress on Your Corner” events, is alert and able to breathe on her own. No one can say what the long-term brings for Giffords and her family. It is all just speculation at this point, but we can be certain that her recovery from the trauma will be extensive and arduous.

In much the same way after the terrible events of 9/11 took place, there is the temptation to panic. There is a real debate taking place regarding how much access to public officials is too much. Where is the line between serving the people and protecting oneself from them? Once again, a familiar feeling that our culture is spinning out of control has led to some reactionary, emotional responses from people who sit at all points on the political spectrum.

Allow me to say upfront and with absolute clarity that I am no fan of former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin. I disagree with her on everything from women’s issues, to climate change, government regulation of private sector business, and yes, gun control. I think her words are often chosen for effect and shock value, designed to burnish her rising star rather than reflect a deliberate consideration of practical policy. She is a narcissist who often fails to consider the impact of her actions. Just ask former Presidential campaign staffers for Senator John McCain. In the words of the immortal Miley Cyrus, Palin just “can’t be tamed.”

That said, it is an awfully long leap in logic to tack any of the blame for Saturday’s tragedy on Sarah Palin. The crosshairs map (above) which features gun sights over various congressional districts throughout America held by Democrats, including Rep. Giffords’ constituency, is at the center of the controversy. The Sarah Palin Action Committee used the crosshairs map to target seats during the 2010 elections, elections I might add, that are long since over.

There is certainly a place for discussion about the political tone in Washington, which seems to ratchet up with ever-increasing vitriol, and may certainly provide that last push for a person hovering on the edge of mental stability. However the answer to rhetorical extremism from the right is not an equal dose from the left. I have read the words of serious writers, some of them publishing on this very forum, who have called for legal consequences for Palin. However to build a case, there must be demonstrable cause and effect. As far as I am aware, there has yet to be a solid line drawn between the crosshairs map and the gut wrenching actions of Jared Loughner. I may not like Ms. Palin but I can grant that she is no advocate for child murder.

Instead of the Left pointing its finger at the Right for irresponsible language (though it is an issue worth discussing), I find myself leaning toward the prospective of New York Times columnist Gail Collins. In an essay published yesterday and titled “A Right to Bear Glocks?” Collins highlights Arizona’s permissive attitude toward the carry and concealment of semiautomatic weapons as one of the culprits in this tragedy.

She writes convincingly, “you do not hear much about the fact that Jared Loughner came to Giffords’s sweet gathering with a semiautomatic weapon that he was able to buy legally because the law restricting their sale expired in 2004 and Congress did not have the guts to face up to the National Rifle Association and extend it.”

Collins adds, “If Loughner had gone to the Safeway carrying a regular pistol, the kind most Americans think of when they think of the right to bear arms, Giffords would probably still have been shot…But we might not have lost a federal judge, a 76-year-old church volunteer, two elderly women, Giffords’s 30-year-old constituent services director and a 9-year-old girl who had recently been elected to the student council at her school and went to the event because she wanted to see how democracy worked.”

We know what the hardcore members of the NRA will say. Guns don’t kill people. It’s people who do that. Fine, but there is just no reason I can think of to have a person carrying around a weapon that can spray bullets and kill numerous souls in an instant.

Politics and violence have been around since men first decided to anoint themselves into leadership positions over one another. Premature death is part of the risk of entering the political arena. But Caesar was looking out for poison and daggers, not uzis.



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