In the wake of the shooting in Arizona this weekend that critically injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and that killed and injured more than 20 people, many pundits and politicians are pointing fingers. Others are hoping the incident will serve to ratchet down rancor. Yet emerging details make it clear the shooter wasn’t primarily motivated by politics, right or left.
Jared Lee Loughner seems mainly to have been struggling with mental illness and was angry at being thrown out of Pima Community College. The shooting was the act of an isolated crazy with deadly unfettered access to high-end firearms. The unsurprising fact is that a young man who had been rejected by military recruiters and kicked out of school for repeat disturbingly erratic behavior walked into a Sportsman’s Warehouse outlet, passed an instant background check and left with the Glock 19 semiautomatic that he used to spray the Safeway parking lot Saturday morning.
The New York Times leads the charge in seeing a deadly mix in the nation’s charged political rhetoric and its loose gun laws. The paper today published a strongly worded rebuke of right-wing rhetoric, which it said creates a climate where shootings like the one that rocked the nation Saturday become more likely.
It is facile and mistaken to attribute this particular madman’s act directly to Republicans or Tea Party members. But it is legitimate to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced the vast majority of these threats, setting the nation on edge. Many on the right have exploited the arguments of division, reaping political power by demonizing immigrants, or welfare recipients, or bureaucrats. They seem to have persuaded many Americans that the government is not just misguided, but the enemy of the people.
That whirlwind has touched down most forcefully in Arizona, which Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik described after the shooting as the capital of “the anger, the hatred and the bigotry that goes on in this country.” Anti-immigrant sentiment in the state, firmly opposed by Ms. Giffords, has reached the point where Latino studies programs that advocate ethnic solidarity have actually been made illegal.
Its gun laws are among the most lenient, allowing even a disturbed man like Mr. Loughner to buy a pistol and carry it concealed without a special permit. That was before the Tucson rampage. Now, having seen first hand the horror of political violence, Arizona should lead the nation in quieting the voices of intolerance, demanding an end to the temptations of bloodshed, and imposing sensible controls on its instruments.
Others are pointing to the campaign against Giffords waged by her opponent this fall. Republican Jesse Kelly used highly violent language and imagery against Giffords. A notice from his website asked voters to “help remove Giffords from office” by coming out with him to “shoot fully automatic M16s.”
Today, Kelly’s site had this comment at the top of the page:
“In the wake of this stunning tragedy, my prayers are with Rep. Giffords, her husband Mark and the rest of her family. May God’s strength comfort her as we pray together for her recovery. We mourn for those who lost their lives in this horrible act.
Senseless acts of violence such as this have absolutely no place in American politics.”
Meanwhile, MoveOn.org is circulating a petition calling for an end to such rhetoric. The petition reads, “I call for an end to all overt or implied appeals to violence in American politics. We must debate, not hate.”
First District Congresswoman Diana DeGette issued this statement Saturday:
“I am shocked and saddened by today’s extraordinary tragedy in which my friend and Congressional colleague Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was gravely injured. My thoughts and prayers are with Rep. Giffords and her family, as well as with her dedicated staff and the others brutally attacked this morning. As the events of this national tragedy unfold, I know my fellow Coloradoans and all Americans join me in those prayers.”
Seventh District Congressman Ed Perlmutter’s communications and policy director Leslie Oliver issued this statement today via email:
“Ed extends his thoughts and prayers to all of those impacted by this terrible tragedy in Arizona. He is in shock still and angry that this person shot his friend, Rep. Giffords, and threatened the accessibility and openness necessary for our democracy. Ed has held over 70 Government in the Grocery meetings with constituents at grocery stores and coffee shops all over the district since he was first elected in 2006. Ed and our staff are very appreciative of the grocery stores’ commitment and willingness to allow us to provide this kind of public service in our neighborhoods so people can have the access to their elected officials to talk about the issues they need help with, or whatever is on their mind, in the places that are convenient and available to them.”
Even in Arizona, some politicians are calling for a return to civility.
From the Arizona Daily Star:
But in Pima County, Ariz., Sheriff Clarence Dupnik suggested “all this vitriol” in recent political discourse might be connected to Saturday’s shootings. “This may be free speech,” he told reporters, “but it’s not without consequences.”
Whatever the motive, the toxic tone of the national debate is certain to draw greater scrutiny.
“We do know that politics has become too personal, too nasty and perhaps too dangerous,” said Jonathan Cowan, president of the centrist Democratic group Third Way. “Perhaps out of this senseless act some sense can return to our public discourse.”
Meanwhile, some prominent Arizona Republicans are complaining that the shooting has become inappropriately politicized by Democrats.
From an article in The Arizona Republic:
In Tucson, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik inveighed against what he sees as issues that contribute to violence like that which left U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords with a massive brain injury, six people dead and 13 others wounded. During a Sunday morning news conference, he called Arizona “the tombstone of the United States of America.”
“I have never been a proponent of letting everybody in this state carry weapons under any circumstances that they want, and that’s almost where we are,” Dupnik said.
He complained that gun laws are too lax, ripped the state Legislature for currently considering legislation to allow firearms on college campuses and lamented that the mentally ill are not institutionalized as often as in the past.
On Saturday, Dupnik said talk radio and some in television have contributed to the overheated politics in the nation today.
U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., criticized Dupnik “for politicizing this thing in such a tragic moment.”
Franks said that he doesn’t see gun-control measures as a solution and that strong families remain the best way to identify mental problems early on.
“It’s not the gun that was the problem. It’s whose hands it was in,” Franks said. “The central cause is that an unhinged degenerate with no respect for innocent human life has assaulted our Constitution, our freedom and killed and wounded many children of God.”
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., called Dupnik’s comments Saturday inappropriate.
“I didn’t really think that that had any part in a law-enforcement briefing (Saturday) night. It was speculation,” Kyl said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” in regard to the shooting suspect’s motive. “It’s probably giving him too much credit to ascribe a coherent political philosophy to him. We just have to acknowledge that there are mentally unstable people in this country.”
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., appearing on the same program, maintained that politics has turned toxic in the media.
“Far too many broadcasts now and so many outlets have the intent of inciting people to opposition, to anger, to thinking the other side is less than moral,” he said. “I think that is a context in which somebody who is mentally unbalanced can somehow feel justified in taking this kind of action. I think we need to . . . be aware that what we say can, in fact, have consequences.”