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Seven Reflections on the Arizona Massacre

January 9, 2011

On January 8, 2011, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 18 others were gunned down in a horrific massacre in Tucson. The 40-year-old Giffords, who was greeting constituents outside a Safeway supermarket, is clinging to life after a bullet passed through her brain. Doctors say she has a “reasonable” chance of survival, but at least six are dead. The suspect, 22-year-old Jared Loughner, is in custody, and authorities are searching for a second man who might have been involved in the shootings.

What can we say about such a senseless and coldblooded act that hasn’t already been said? Probably not much, but here are some thoughts that came to mind as the tragedy unfolded…

1. Polarization has its consequences. First came Bush Derangement Syndrome, then Obama Derangement Syndrome. We’re living through the most deeply polarized era in U.S. history since the 1960s, which (probably not by sheer coincidence) was marked by a series of traumatic assassinations. Concerned observers have cited the alarming level of vitriol emanating from the left and right fringes these days. And they’re right: disputes between ideological extremists have escalated to something resembling civil warfare, complete with the vocabulary of war: we no longer respectfully disagree; we need to “fight tyranny” and “silence” or even “take out” our “enemies” before they “rob us of our freedom.”

Over the top, certainly. A little out of touch with reality, too. And the extremists just keep stepping up the distorted rhetoric in direct response to the distorted rhetoric from the other camp. But should we force Americans to squelch their warlike verbal outbursts? No, that’s just not the way we operate here. We can undercut the power of extremist rhetoric simply by giving more prominence to outspoken centrist voices in the media.

2. Arizona is the canary in the coal mine. As a border state plagued by immigration issues, Arizona is at the epicenter of a controversy that threatens to rip us apart: do we treat illegal immigrants and their offspring as criminals, or do we welcome anyone who wants to start a new life in this country? Are the opponents of illegal immigration racists? Are the pro-immigrant liberals opening the door to the Latinization (and eventual impoverishment) of the U.S.? So far no viable middle ground has appeared, and tempers are just as overheated as ever — especially in Arizona.

3. Moderates are under attack. Of course Gabrielle Giffords is an extreme example, but the truth is that being a moderate today means doubling your chance of making enemies. Here was one of our best and brightest rising politicians: a fair-minded, independent, nuanced thinker — a moderate Democrat who opposed Arizona’s tough illegal immigrant law but supported tight border controls. In today’s extremist political climate, that’s enough to invite attacks from both camps. During the 2010 campaign, Sarah Palin targeted her in cross-hairs on a now-infamous political map of the U.S. A columnist at the left-leaning Daily Kos who disagreed with her harrumphed that “she’s dead to me.” Still think moderates are wishy-washy saps who lack the courage to take a stand? Right.

Portrait of an (alleged) assassin: Jared Loughner

4. We still don’t know the shooter’s political views.
Loughner might have been a wingnut on the extreme right or left… or he might just have been a nut. It hardly matters. What disturbs me is the confluence of insanity and intellectualism. The kid obviously liked to dabble in ideas — his online writings included some incoherent nonsense about mind-control and creating a new currency. Crazy people with deeply held ideas are dangerous.

5. That Second Amendment thing. How did a semi-automatic weapon find its way into the hands of an unstable young man? And (at the risk of offending all those red-blooded American gun enthusiasts) why should any citizen be allowed to own a semi-automatic weapon? I’m not against simple handguns for self-defense. But assault weapons belong in the military. No exceptions. And please don’t quote me the Second Amendment: its purpose was to enable the formation of a “well-regulated militia” — not to empower isolated lunatics with a grudge to settle. We have to pass gun-control legislation that keeps assault weapons out of the hands of private citizens.

6.  Consider the “collateral damage.” Not only has the gunman truncated a promising political career, but he murdered at least six people who should still have been alive today: John Roll, Arizona’s chief federal judge, by all accounts an upstanding and well-liked (if controversial) public servant… Giffords’ 30-year-old aide Gabe Zimmerman… three senior citizens who wanted to meet their congresswoman… and perhaps saddest of all, nine-year-old Christina Green, granddaughter of former Phillies’ manager Dallas Green. Born on 9/11 (yes, in 2001), Christina had just been elected to her school’s student council and was invited by a neighbor to come out and meet Giffords. I can imagine what that neighbor is going through today. Deranged people with automatic weapons aren’t especially selective when it comes to choosing their victims.

7. Maybe the massacre will bring us together. Or maybe not. Politicians on both sides of the aisle — including President Obama and House Speaker Boehner — were quick to denounce the shootings and praise Rep. Giffords. That’s a step in the right direction. I’m hoping that bipartisan cooperation becomes the rule rather than the exception. I’m also hoping that Americans everywhere will ponder the consequences of the political animosities that have ripped us apart over the past decade. E pluribus unum, remember?

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32 Comments leave one →
  1. Diana George permalink
    January 9, 2011 8:39 pm

    Well said!

  2. Kathy Martin permalink
    January 9, 2011 9:59 pm

    Excellent writings, Rick. There are nut jobs everywhere & we have to stop blaming their actions on politics. Sometimes they are just mentally unstable – plain & simple. And I agree about assault weapons. I also have no problem with having a gun for personal protection, but see no need for an arsenal of military weapons.

  3. Priscilla permalink
    January 10, 2011 9:49 am

    Excellent and fair-minded piece, Rick (typical of you, of course!)…….it has been sickening to me to see the rush, on the part of so many in the liberal media, to somehow link these killings to Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, despite the lack of any evidence whatsoever. I give great credit to the President for – so far – choosing to avoid any commentary that would indicate that political rhetoric, on either side of the spectrum led to this horrific killing spree. From what I have read, this guy was completely crazy, and had stalked Giffords since well before the rise of Palin or the Tea Party, mostly because she was the representative from his area, and he was a nihilistic, government hating nutcase.

    In the aftermath of tragic events like this, it is imperative that cooler heads, such as yours, prevail. Otherwise, I am afraid we will start seeing witch hunts and calls for restricted political speech….

    I tend to agree with you on automatic weapons vs. handguns, but I thought that this guy used a pistol? I didn’t see any video or anything, just thought I read that somewhere……

    • January 11, 2011 12:13 pm

      Priscilla: I’m appalled by the way the left has used the incident to demonize Palin and other conservatives, too. Yes, Palin’s gun mania seems distasteful now, but she certainly can’t be held responsible for inciting a delusional 22-year-old to open fire in Tucson. Neither can the right-wing pundits, though their warlike rhetoric is polarizing and irresponsible (and I’m hoping they start toning it down a bit).

      Loughner himself doesn’t represent any recognizable point on the political spectrum: from what I’ve gathered, he’s both a leftist and a white supremacist, an atheist and anarchist. He lists both “The Communist Manifesto” and “Mein Kampf” among his favorite books — along with a lot of MY favorite books (Alice in Wonderland, Gulliver’s Travels and the like). So go figure… he’s just a young wastrel in the midst of a psychotic breakdown, at a time in life when those breakdowns tend to occur. Sad for him, sadder for the victims. (And yes, he used a semi-automatic. How he managed to obtain one is still a mystery.)

  4. Carla permalink
    January 10, 2011 4:14 pm

    So well said, Rick. I especially agree with your comment about moderates being under fire. I try hard in my office to avoid getting into discussions about politics or any subject that is very hot-button…immigration, guns, etc. What I have noticed in the last year is that the far-left and far-right in my office are particularly nasty to someone like me….”get off the fence” is something I hear often. I personally, don’t see myself as a fence sitter, but apparently in the day and age, if you aren’t far left or far right, that is what you are.

    • January 11, 2011 12:26 pm

      Carla: Your office seems to be a microcosm of the contemporary American political scene. Nobody seems to want nuanced opinions; politics has deteriorated into a shouting match between extremists. I think most of our politicians are a little more cool-headed than the public, but the opinion-makers on both fringes still seem to despise and reject the people in the center.

      What can we do? Stick to our guns (OK, unfortunate metaphor) and let them know that the most complicated issues don’t have black-and-white answers. Our society NEEDS its moderates to propose ideas and solutions that are fair to the greatest number of people. And believe me, it takes guts to be a moderate when you have to take abuse from both sides!

      Thanks for posting here (hope you’ll return) and good luck with your office mates.

  5. Sumgy permalink
    January 11, 2011 6:29 am

    I would like to use this opportunity to congratulate the centrist blogosphere for their tact and civil behaviour in this crisis.

    The majority of the centrist blogs I checked out either have not yet commented on this tragedy (e.g. Rise Of the Center) or criticised those who accused their political opponents for being accomplices in the murder without any evidence (e.g. The New Moderate, The Future American).

    • January 11, 2011 12:37 pm

      Sumgy: Thanks… The left and right seem to be outdoing each other in making political capital out of the shooting. Not only are the leftists essentially blaming the right for the incident… they’re also telling us that there’s no “equivalence” between conservative rhetoric and leftist rhetoric. Meanwhile the left is using every opportunity to fire away at Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, hoping to take them out once and for all.

      And of course, the right is just hunkering down in a defiantly defensive posture, blaming the left for blaming them. I really wonder what it will take to end this rhetorical civil war.

      The real story behind the Arizona massacre is that an intellectually muddled young man went crazy and shot 20 people.

      • Priscilla permalink
        January 12, 2011 8:22 am

        Not that I expect this to happen, but I think that President Obama could go a long way with right leaners like me, if he were to address the reprehensible politicization of this atrocity, particularly the calls for first amendment restrictions. To use a political idiom, it could be his “Sista Soldjah moment.”

        And although I think it is the left that has sought to use this tragedy to push its agenda against Palin, Fox, right wing talkers, etc, one of the stupidest, and frankly most offensive proposals came from a Republican, Peter King from NY, who proposes a law prohibiting anyone from carrying a gun within 1000 feet of a member of Congress. I suppose Rep King is afraid, and I understand that, but does he not see that a law like this implies that his life – and the lives of his elected peers – is somehow more valuable than yours or mine?

        Some sign of leadership and perspective from our top elected officials ( I would say public servants, but I am despairing that there are any) would do a great deal to move us forward. It is not Rush Limbaugh’s job to bring us together – however, it is Barack Obama’s……

  6. valdobiade permalink
    January 12, 2011 7:42 pm

    Priscilla wrote: …one of the stupidest, and frankly most offensive proposals came from a Republican, Peter King from NY, who proposes a law prohibiting anyone from carrying a gun within 1000 feet of a member of Congress.
    ——–

    I guess that the supporters of 2nd amendment will protest. They believe that 2nd amendment applies also within 1000 feet of a member of Congress, especially if they believe that Militia (or “defenders” of their State) has to deal with one… wasn’t this the scope of the amendment?

    This 2nd amendment was so specific for a period of time and how out of context is this applied! This is so horrific!
    In Europe only police and military carry arms, why Americans believe that they are still cowboys… I don’t know!

    I guess that my opinion that only police and military should carry arms, makes me a Left-extremist? I want to be a Moderate, but there are only 2 positions on this matter: with or without right to bear arms…

    • January 17, 2011 12:30 am

      Valdo: Both the left and the right seem to be able to quote chapter and verse when it comes to the crime rate in societies that get along without guns. The pro-gun right will tell you that depriving ordinary citizens of guns actually increases the rate of gun violence, because the criminals become fearless. The anti-gun left will cite the extremely LOW rate of gun violence in societies like Japan, where guns simply aren’t part of the culture.

      Given America’s infatuation with guns, I don’t think we’d ever resemble Japan even if guns became illegal here. Our cities are intrinsically violent places, and someone with a will to kill will find a way. Out in the countryside, where hunting is a way of life, most kids learn to shoot while they’re still in grade school. And of course we have more than our share of psychopaths armed with semi-automatics.

      We also have a large contingent of right-wingers with an almost paranoid fear that the 2nd Amendment will be repealed, and that the government will eventually come to collect our guns and render us impotent. So maybe it all boils down to American men feeling sexually insecure.

  7. Priscilla permalink
    January 17, 2011 8:58 pm

    Agreed, Rick – the gun control debate is pretty entrenched, with only the issue of assault weapons an area where right and left could conceiveably come to some consensus…..and then only if the right trusted the left and vice-versa, which, of course, ain’t gonna happen.

    I am no gun lover, but I was persuaded to the right side of this debate after reading how the Nazis systematically disarmed the German citizens, particularly the Jews, prior to the Holocaust. I am not contending that the Holocaust would not have occurred without gun control (As far as I know, no Jewish group actually tried actively resisting the Nazis before or during their rise to power), but I’m pretty sure that there would have been uprisings and rebellions that may have changed the course of the genocide – or, at the very least, made it impossible for Holocaust deniers to exist today.

    Hopefully, I don’t sound like some paranoid, survivalist gun freak – I am not (not yet, anyway, lol). But I think that the founding fathers understood that an armed citizenry cannot have their freedom taken from them easily……..

    • January 19, 2011 1:59 pm

      Priscilla: That’s the right-wing argument for gun rights (not that there’s anything wrong with that). What bothers me is the “paranoid, survivalist gun freak” mentality that seems to be so prevalent now. It’s as if most of the U.S. has become an extension of Texas or Idaho.

      And then there’s the circular logic of the whole enterprise: they arm themselves because they assume the government is on the verge of confiscating their arms. But what do they need those arms for in the first place?

      If these people merely want to hunt or defend their families against burglars, they don’t need a cache of semi-automatic weapons — except to fire away at the authorities who come to take their semi-automatic weapons. There’s a satire in here someplace.

  8. valdobiade permalink
    January 18, 2011 2:12 pm

    Rick and Priscilla: I think that there is a big difference between having arms to defend our freedom and having arms to defends against an intruder in our home. For me, the 2nd amendment actually gave us the freedom to play cowboys. Cowboys did not kill because their freedom was at stake. They killed to show off who was the fastest of them all… Between a burglar and a homeowner it seems to be the same game.
    The 2nd amendment was clearly for a clear purpose. Sometime I think that the tragedy that took place in Tucson could be interpreted as defending the state against some party that wanted to interfere with the freedom of Arkansans.

    • January 19, 2011 2:06 pm

      Valdo: You’re right that America still has a lingering Wild West mindset — but I don’t think defending one’s home against intruders ranks with the need to be the “fastest gun.” These gun lovers are motivated by the idea that the government is their enemy. This used to be a fringe phenomenon limited to a handful of nutty hardcore survivalists and anarchists — but now it seems to have spread to a large swath of conservative America. I don’t like it, and it doesn’t bode well for our future.

  9. valdobiade permalink
    January 18, 2011 2:16 pm

    Sorry, it is Arizona not Arkansas… so I’d be talking about Arizonans defending their freedom against a party that may interfere with their rights…

    I am sure that after this tragedy, the Democrats will try more seriously to cut “our freedom to bear arms”

  10. Carla permalink
    January 18, 2011 2:58 pm

    It’s interesting that people bring up cowboys here. (This might be getting off track a bit, but) My grandfather was actually a cowboy in wyoming right at the turn of the century (1900). At the age of 14, he went to Wyoming and signed on to be a ranch hand on a huge cattle ranch. Guns were a way of life for them, mostly to protect the herd from predators. He came back to Missouri, married and farmed. Again, he carried a shotgun daily to take care of coyotes, foxes, etc. My farming relatives still use guns for this purpose. I’m not sure what point I’m trying to make, but I don’t think my grandfather carried a gun to “outshoot” someone back then, and the freedom he was protecting was the cow’s, I’d guess. LOL

    • January 19, 2011 1:46 pm

      Carla: Most of us probably think of the Old West in terms of gunfighters who’d face off in a showdown — I wonder how often that actually happened. (I’d guess there was one outlaw mowed down for every 10,000 varmints.) Thanks for the story about your grandfather; that sort of real-life connection to our mythic past always fascinates me. My family didn’t come to this country until the 1920s.

  11. Priscilla permalink
    January 19, 2011 7:44 am

    Valdo, If we are not permitted to possess guns, how would we have guns to protect our freedom? Or are you referring only to the army protecting our freedom? Also, you think that a man protecting his home from an armed intruder is acting like a cowboy? Not acting in defense of his family’s safety?

  12. Anonymous permalink
    January 19, 2011 2:46 pm

    Priscilla, “freedom” is such a subjective concept.
    You think that having a gun you can protect your freedom, but somebody with a bigger gun than yours thinks that he got the freedom to have you conquered. Then you cry because this is unfair, then you look for a bigger gun to get back your freedom… and so on and so forth.

    Can we have a law that ask you to have a label on a gun that reads: ” To be used only to defend freedom, self-defense and not to be used when you are drunk, mad and looking for trouble”?
    Maybe I am a Pacifist, a deluded person who thinks that “the meek will inherit the earth”.

    I am just joking, I know that nobody can defend his/her freedom with a gun, just postpone his/her defeat and live in fear for there are some with semi-automatic. The ones with semi-automatics live in fear also because there are some who have bazookas
    ;0

    • valdobiade permalink
      January 19, 2011 2:48 pm

      forgot to write that I am the anonymous “valdobiade” 🙂

  13. Priscilla permalink
    January 19, 2011 6:56 pm

    valdo, I absolutely knew it was you 🙂 Freedom may be subjective, but we know it when we see it, don’t we? And we know when we don’t have it…..

    That said, there are no guns in my house, because my husband and I have never felt that our lives or property were threatened. And, truth be told, guns scare me. I do, however, consider myself free to change my mind about owning a gun, based on circumstances…..and if I did, I believe that I have the right to obtain a gun for personal protection. ( I certainly wouldn’t be planning on any cowboy-style shootouts!).

    Rick, I don’t think that the idea of an armed citizenry exhibits circular logic. I don’t think that there are many gun control opponents who think that they are in imminent danger from our government (sure the paranoid survivalists are out there, but, honestly, it’s the left that tries to tar the rest of us with that label). But, I do believe that one of the key differences between a liberal and a conservative is that liberals tend to believe in the goodness of government power (unless a Republican is president, haha) , while conservatives are more likely to believe that power corrupts. I harbor no fear of our current government, but I believe that Reagan was correct when he said that “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” I think that is why the second amendment exists – because the founding fathers subscribed to Locke’s philosophy that an armed citizenry is the ultimate insurance policy to keep the government in check.

    Oh, and by the way, I read today that Dick Cheney ( Darth Cheney to the left) said today that he would be amenable to certain restrictions on automatic and semi-automatic weapons….

  14. valdobiade permalink
    January 20, 2011 1:43 pm

    Priscilla wrote: Freedom may be subjective, but we know it when we see it, don’t we? And we know when we don’t have it…..
    —————

    I think that this freedom that “we know when we don’t have it” has a patriotic connotation. Patriotism is linked to Politics, Politics are linked to scandals, madness, and violence. I would like you to give me a single example (inside of the US) of Americans using their guns to defend their freedom since the abolition of slavery.
    Outside of the US, America “spreads” democracy using big guns and has its jobs of gun production outsourced to impoverished countries. (I’ve been working with a company that made arms components. The company laid off workers for it was cheaper to make them “outside”)
    Well, at least Americans have “traveling” jobs in the Army and freedom from having jobs or living in a house. We are going and rejoice on the idyllic fields of American freedom.

    Priscilla wrote: I do, however, consider myself free to change my mind about owning a gun
    ——–

    Good for you, but keep in mind that some States does not allow you to by more than one gun per month… How sad…

    • Priscilla permalink
      January 20, 2011 4:13 pm

      Darn! It’s gonna take some time to build my arsenal…..

      • valdobiade permalink
        January 20, 2011 5:54 pm

        Exactly! Our 2nd amendment is in danger. The freedom of arming ourselves to freed ourselves from gun control totalitarianism, is in danger as never before.
        An enemy of the 2nd amendment (an amendment that guarantees freedom of arming ourselves in order to be free against the tyrants who wants gun control) wounded in the head raised from her hospital bed today. The press is saying that she’ll be out in one or two weeks. I am sure that she’ll be more tyrannic as never before. How many guns make an arsenal? This time we need an arsenal, not just a handgun… dammit!
        Hope you know that I am BSing, but still mad at 2nd amendment. There were repealed amendments in the past. I hope I won’t be gunned down for wanting 2nd repealed too.

  15. Priscilla permalink
    January 24, 2011 12:51 pm

    valdo, I’m totally getting this for my arsenal: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4LTTmRa698

  16. valdobiade permalink
    January 25, 2011 1:29 pm

    Priscilla, I can see your point… not even in my ex-Communist country, and not even when I lived for 2 years in France and 1 in Italy, we did not need to sleep with a gun in our bed… Unfortunately in the US guns are not used as much as when a burglar enter a house, but for gangs and public massacres.
    Yes, ideally I’d buy this rack to hold my gun, just in case my mother-in-law comes unannounced…

    • valdobiade permalink
      January 25, 2011 4:20 pm

      Priscilla, one more thought I forgot to ask. Why is not 2nd amendment modified to expressly show that Americans have the right to bear arms to defend themselves against burglars?
      Burglars don’t take freedoms of Americans.
      If not modified, the 2nd amendment actually sounds like “Americans have the right to bear arms to defend their freedom to bear arms “.
      When I’ve seen youtube clip, I was totally disgusted seeing how Americans thinks about freedom. I wouldn’t want to live in such a society where you got to have a gun in bed.
      It is not like British Army or an US government representative will jump in your bed and violate your freedom.

  17. valdobiade permalink
    March 10, 2011 5:01 pm

    “To disarm the people – that was the best and most effective way to enslave them ….”
    — George Mason ( Framer of the Declaration of Rights, Virginia, 1776, which became the basis for the U.S. Bill of Rights ) 3 Elliot, Debate at 380.
    ============================================

    Flawed logic.

    I’d say: “Give people right to bear arms, then give them a motive to be afraid – that is the best and most effective way to create a society enslaved by fear”

  18. November 7, 2011 3:39 pm

    This surely makes great sense to anyone.

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