Sunday, January 09, 2011

Murder in Tucson

It is a sad but, I have to say, predictable day here in America. Sad, because six people - including a nine-year-old girl - and a Federal judge were murdered in cold blood; predictable, because we have not only allowed the conditions which led to this tragic event to flourish, but we have encouraged them.

Here is what we appear to know right now: a 22-year-old man with a history of making violent threats went to a "Congress on Your Corner" event at which Representative Gabrielle Giffords was meeting with her constituents, pulled a handgun with a 30-round magazine, shot Representative Giffords in the head at close range, and then proceeded to shoot other people in the crowd. His rampage ended only when he had to stop to reload his weapon, at which point he was tackled by bystanders and held for the police.

We don't know at this point what motivated this lunatic, or whether he acted alone. But I believe this tragic event was predictable for at least two reasons.

One is that we have allowed to develop - particularly on the far right - a culture of hypercritical and often semantically violent rhetoric that views government as an enemy to be fought by any means. Many of these people have a grossly simplistic view of an idealized Constitution that most have never read, or have read only selectively. They thunder about individual rights, but ignore civic responsibilities. They demand lower taxes, but insist on the services those taxes pay for. They fervently believe all will be well if only "out-of-control government spending" could be eliminated, but object to any cutbacks in the areas where most government spending takes place - defense and entitlement programs.

Another reason this event was predictable is blind worship of the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Legal and constitutional scholars have debated since the birth of the Republic exactly what the actual intent of the Founders was when they wrote the Second Amendment - was it to allow unrestricted private ownership of weapons, or was it to provide for the availability of weapons to equip a militia for public defense? Unfortunately, there is not the least doubt in the minds of those for whom the Second Amendment was somehow edited out of the Ten Commandments by some commie-pinko-liberal-activist judge ... it means that the right to own any firearm, of any sort, in any quantity, for any reason, is utterly inviolate and completely beyond any rational discussion. This is why anyone can purchase a high-powered handgun with a large capacity magazine and produce the horror we saw yesterday on a Tucson street corner.

As I've written here before, I support responsible gun ownership. I have owned guns in the past (although I don't at the moment), and the Second Amendment says what it says, poorly-written and broadly-interpreted though it may be. My objection is to the absolute and unquestioning worship of the types of firearms that have no place in a responsible civic society (how many people do you know are out in the woods hunting deer with a handgun with a 30-round magazine?). When the National Rifle Association can use its enormous clout to intimidate lawmakers and prevent the rational discussion of a critical issue, something is wrong.

And the price of those dual problems of unthinking gun worship and overheated political rhetoric is what we see: six people dead and eleven others gravely wounded - some because they chose to enter a life of public service and make themselves available to those they serve, and others because they wanted to meet their elected representative, as is their right in a participatory democracy.

No matter how much of a head-up-the-backside ultraconservative you are, if this doesn't make you think, nothing will.

But I'm not holding my breath.

Pray for the families of the dead and the recovery of the injured. And pray for the future of responsible civic action in a nation that's lost sight of individual responsibility while worshiping individual rights.

Have a good day. Be safe. More thoughts tomorrow.



KKTSews said...

Just heard on CNN (if you believe that source) that Rep Giffords was one of the select few who was, quite literally, targeted on the Sarah Palin website last year as a district the Republicans ought to take back. The visual on that, if you recall, was the symbol for a gun sight.
Perhaps it will take an unhinged tragedy to make people realize extreme rhetoric eventually leads to extreme action.

Mike said...

Very well said.

KathyA said...

I, too, am for responsible gun ownership -- aw crap, who am I kidding? I hate the thought that guns are so readily available and that this clearly disturbed young man was able to buy a Glock and ammunition. Again, in this country, we don't treat the mentally ill, but we sure as hell arm them.