February 2011
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Maybe it wasn't such an inexplicable act

By David Grant Long

“a politician is an arse upon which everyone has sat except a man.” – e.e. cummings

The mass murder spree in Arizona a few weeks ago sure got people talking, especially our elected leaders.

Glib politicians all extended sympathy to the families of the slain and maimed, and almost universally decried the act as “senseless.” And of course regardless of party they couldn’t say enough good things about U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), the target of an assassination attempt carried out by a well-equipped young citizen who really knew how to use a semiautomatic handgun to dispense his own political commentary.

Those of the rightwing fringe and their fellow travelers – the duplicitous Republicans who paint themselves as moderate in comparison to the gun nuts on whom they often depend for election – were quick to dissociate themselves from the perpetrator, particularly because a few of their champions frequently had used references and metaphors tied to armed violence in their appeals for votes and money from the romantics to whom such allusions are most attractive.

For instance, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who regularly regurgitates colorful “shoot-’em-up” solutions to philosophical differences – “don’t retreat, reload” and so on – surely can’t be blamed for encouraging unbalanced folks to act on their fantasies, such as killing authority figures and saving mankind. She also used illustrations with the crosshairs of telescopic sights on election maps last fall, asking her fans to defeat Giffords and numerous other congressional members.

In fact, Palin’s campaign ad prompted Giffords to assert during an interview on NBC that such graphic tactics can have real consequences. (Giffords’ words now seem hauntingly prescient.)

Then there was Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle, who narrowly lost to Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, suggesting during the campaign that “Second Amendment remedies” might result if Reid were re-elected. It really worried her, she said.

But never mind, no one’s responsible for a random shooting other than the shootist, right?

Listen, the conservative chorus sang, we all know this guy was a major nut (“deranged” seemed to be the favorite adjective) who couldn’t understand rational discourse anyway, so therefore fiery rhetoric bounced off him quite harmlessly. Suggestions of a connection between his act and any recent political speech or campaign ad were quickly condemned as a cynical ploy by left-wing opportunists, callously using a tragedy for short-term political gain. (Gee, how rare is that, regardless of party?)

At any rate, no one – especially loudmouth politicos – should be blamed for what happened, most of them self-righteously proclaimed, not in the slightest way, even if a big part of your image – the one that keeps grizzly mommas slavishly worshiping you – is about blasting a firearm and being a frontier woman who poops in the woods for fun.

End of story.

Well, no one knows or likely will know what caused this sociopath to make a name for himself in this horrible way. Certainly no one encouraged him to gun down 20-some people outside a Tucson supermarket.

On the other hand, violent imagery from either side of the political divide probably isn’t a good thing overall. But free speech allows room for lively commentary, and can include calls for armed rebellion, which in some scenarios may not be a bad idea anyway. (What was it Jefferson said about occasionally refreshing the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots?)

But to call this macabre act “senseless” is superficial and dishonest, and only distracts from a larger reality that doesn’t appear likely to change, even with the periodic reminders such as Columbine, Luby’s Cafeteria, Virginia Tech and so on.

We have a population of 300 million, mostly good productive folk who wouldn’t dream of such a deed.

The problem is we also have a certain population, including people with acute mental-health problems, that does dream of doing something so sensational that their names are on everyone’s lips.

And short of possessing great ability or special talent, the simplest way to achieve this status is by causing mass death. And the easiest way to do this is by shooting into a crowd with a gun that will deliver dozens of bullets in a few seconds just by squeezing the trigger.

As it stands right now, unless someone is a convicted felon or has been certified as mentally incompetent, anyone can purchase the means to achieve such instant fame, and powerful financial interests (fronted by the NRA) spend huge amounts of campaign money to make sure the market for these scary weapons is not restricted.

As long as we good citizens keep electing lawmakers who accept that money and continue allowing the sale of large-capacity magazines that deliver death in wholesale lots, nothing is going to change.

Nearly 100,000 Americans a year are injured or killed by gun violence. Our nation ranks seventh or eighth highest in gun crimes per capita, depending which list you look at – behind nations such as Mexico and South Africa. Our rate of gun violence is roughly 20 times that of the United Kingdom; our murder rate is even higher. And we’re ninth on the worldwide list for homicides by all methods, not just guns.

So spare me all the talk about toning down the political dialogue and becoming a kinder, gentler nation. At least be honest about this nation’s passionate love affair with guns and violence both.

Jared Loughner’s spree wasn’t senseless. This most recent slaughter – they happen so regularly that to review them would take up too much space – makes all the sense in the world when you actually think about it.

David Grant Long writes from Cortez, Colo.


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