How quickly the political landscape changes in the days following the acts of a madman. Hard to believe that just a week ago, what was probably about to be the most divisive session of the U.S. Congress was about to get underway. But now, in the shadow of Jarod Lee Loughner's shooting of 20 people including the cold-blooded killing of six, it seems that vitriolic political discourse now has a terrible price attached. That is if it didn't before.
I've tried to hold my tongue on this matter for the last couple of days, feeling that emotion was overwhelming a more logical appraisal of the situation. From all appearances it seems that Gabrielle Giffords was an enthusiastic and dedicated member of Congress, and the people at Saturday's townhall were all friends, well-wishers and constituents who gathered to meet her outside a Safeway in Tuscon, AZ. In the mind of Loughner, a young man whose name will now go down in history next to Timothy McVeigh and Ted Kaczynski, there could have been a myriad of reasons why he attacked.
But let's look at the obvious: Not only is the political climate in the United States at its most bitter and divided since the days of Reconstruction, not only is the acquisition of firearms as easy as it ever was (and highly encouraged), but it seems as if the politicians themselves have been encouraging violence. How else do explain this:
Frankly, if Sarah Palin were a Muslim Imam, she'd be in chains by now. Palin has since come out to say that she "hates violence," which are pretty hollow words coming from a woman that hunted, killed and skinned an animal on national television, but she can't obviously hate violence too much considering the above graphic and her past rhetoric encouraging supporters to "Reload" against Congressional Democrats in last fall's midterm elections.
It's necessary to point out that no connection has been made between Loughner and the Tea Party. By all accounts, Loughner was a disturbed man sinking deeper into anti-social tendencies to the point where fellow classmates at Pima Community College had trepidations about sitting next to him in class, and the school administrators had placed him on suspension pending a mental health evaluation.
Still, I refer to the above graphic from SarahPAC, a political action committee formed by Palin that's "dedicated to building America's future" (or at least Palin's vision of it). Gifford's district was one of 20 literally targeted by SarahPAC last year as districts won by McCain/Palin in '08, but represented by Congressmen and women that voted in favour of President Obama's healthcare reform bill. While I'm sure that Palin's intent wasn't to have supporters literally go out and shoot these politicians, there can be only one meaning for the gun site/cross-hairs graphic. It's a symbol used in targeting an object in order to shoot it.
Does free speech protect Palin's right to publish such a graphic? Of course. And it might be easier to overlook if this had been the first example of violence motivated towards Giffords since it's posting:
And by comparison, Palin's insults are mild. Allen West, freshman congressman from Florida's 22nd congressional district, campaigned against incumbent Rob Klein by telling supporters to make Klein "scared to come out his house" and to "get your musket, fix your bayonet". It kind of makes George Allen's whole "macaca" schtik seem downright quaint.
But West isn't alone. The Tea Party's own philosophical grandpappy Glenn Beck once said on-air that he's like to kill Michael Moore with his bare hands, that hoped Ohio Congreeeman Dennis Kucinich would burn to death, and he once did a little skit where he poisons former House Leader Nancy Pelosi. And before you write off Beck as a kook or, in his words, a "rodeo clown", it should be noted that Beck's innocent postulating about FEMA death camps once caught the eye of a white supremacist who was later arrested for killing three police officers in Pittsburgh.
But the toxic politics are just part of the equation. The other is the long held sacrosanct right of each American to own gun. Every time something like this happens - Columbine, Virgina Tech, Tucson townhall - I hope that it opens the door for Americans to talk about mitigating their love affair with guns. The shooting of 20 people in Arizona was done with a gun bought legally. And with ammunition bought legally. Given the number of firearms worn openly at various political rallies these days, it's almost a wonder that no one's been shot thus far, even just by accident.
But it's true, the American fascination with guns has seemed to exploded since the election of Obama and the beginning of the economic downturn. And while pro-gun advocates have never needed a reason to further expand even the most perfectly understandable restrictions on firearms (guns in bars, for example), it seems to be getting worse all the time. The beginning of 2011 meant for Iowa a new law where you're allowed to carry a gun openly, unless of course, you have a criminal record. That's the only caveat that's keeping Iowa from devolving completely into the Old West, because even known criminals were allowed to carried guns back then.
For this reason, I'm more likely to side with easy access to firearms rather than rancorous political fervour as the cause of Saturday's tragedy. The mentally disturbed can live anywhere, but only one country in the developed world makes it ridiculously easy for them to get weapons of such bloody efficiency. While the jury's still out as to whether or not Loughner was a dyed in the wool Tea Party member, or for that matter any reason that motivated him into taking such violent action, one thing is clear: he wanted a gun, he got one easily, and he used it to tragic effect. While American politicians may want to take a wait-and-see approach to if hot-tempered politics is to blame, don't let that stop you from going after the guns now.
But having said that, I know you won't.
A moment of silence was held for the victims across the U.S. today. Whatever madness drove Jarod Lee Loughner, it's important to not forget his victims:
- Christina Taylor-Green, 9, who was born on Sept. 11, 2001. Her family says she went to Saturday's event because the third-grader had just been elected to the student council at her school, and was excited to learn more about the political process in Arizona.
- U.S. District Judge John Roll, 64. He was appointed to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush in 1991 and had been the chief judge in Arizona since 2006.
- Gabe Zimmerman, 30. He was Giffords's community outreach director and helped organize the meet-and-greet outside the Safeway in Tucson. Zimmerman was reportedly engaged.
- Retired construction worker Dorwin Stoddard, 76. He was shot in the head as he tried to shield his wife. She survived with bullet wounds to her legs.
- Dorothy Morris, 76. Originally from Reno, Nev., Morris was married for more than 50 years. Her husband is among the wounded and is still in hospital.
- Phyllis Schneck, 79. A retired widow and great-grandmother from New Jersey, Scheck spent her winters in Tucson.