Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 12:03 AM
[Author's note: I am truly amazed at how coverage of this tragedy is still dominating all media. It also seems to be the only thing most people, including friends and colleagues in Africa, Europe and the Caribbean, want to talk about these days. This focus will only be heightened today when President Obama leads a federal delegation to Arizona for a national memorial service for the dead and, it seems, for the entire nation.
Personally, I don't get it. But, given the if-you-can't-beat-them-join-them nature of the interest, I have decided to reprise my Sunday commentary on this shooting rampage.]
A suspect is currently in custody, but we don’t yet know what provoked this unspeakable act. A comprehensive investigation is currently underway, and at my direction, [FBI] Director Bob Mueller is en route to Arizona to help coordinate these efforts… This is more than a tragedy for those involved. It is a tragedy for Arizona and a tragedy for our entire country… We’re going to get the bottom of this, and we’re going to get through this….
(President Obama, whitehouse.gov, January 8, 2011)
In delivering this address to the nation, President Obama was doing his best to act as both comforter and commander in chief in the immediate aftermath of a shooting rampage in Tucson, Arizona on Saturday.
In fact, a lone gunman ambushed a meet-and-greet session Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was holding at a local supermarket. Eye witness accounts indicate that he simply pulled out his gun, shot Giffords, his primary target, and then began shooting randomly.
Before he was reportedly tackled and restrained by two civilians, six people were dead, including a nine-year-old girl, 14 wounded, and Giffords was left clinging to life after his bullet passed through her brain.
I’m constrained to wonder why the media always reward these psychotic people by giving them the fame they covet; that is, by plastering their pathetic mugs all over television and reporting pop psychology about why and how they did their dastardly deeds?
You’d think that – given the record of these psychotic and vainglorious episodes since Columbine – we would have figured out by now that the best way to discourage them is by focusing our attention on the victims and limiting what we say about the shooter to: May God have mercy on your soul as you burn in hell!
(Massacre in Omaha, The iPINIONS Journal, December 7, 2007)
Anyway, in pledging to get to the bottom of this, President Obama unwittingly left the impression that there was some way to make sense of this clearly senseless act; whereas there is not. After all, the gunman has been identified, not surprisingly and arguably by definition, as an anti-government lunatic with paranoid delusions.
This is not to say that he is legally insane, however. Because I think he was fully able to appreciate the wrongfulness of his murderous rampage, and should be prosecuted accordingly.
Granted, this blame might seem warranted in Palin’s case – given the map she prominently displayed on her website with the crosshairs of gun sights targeted over the districts of Democrats she wanted to take out, including Giffords. In fact, no less a person than Giffords herself expressed grave concerns about Palin inciting others to violent action by targeting her and other politicians in this way:
We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list. But the thing is the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that.
(MSNBC, March 25, 2010)
Still, I suspect that ascribing blame in this context might have more to do with political scapegoating than getting to the bottom of this tragedy. Not least because political rhetoric by left-wing firebrands has been, and can be, equally incendiary.
It’s simply unfair to argue that Palin knew or should have known that her “don’t retreat, instead reload” rhetoric and this map would cause this wacko to attempt to assassinate Giffords. And let us not overlook the fact that many of the talk show hosts now damning politicians who traffic in incendiary rhetoric are the very ones who prattle on almost every day about that rhetoric to gin up ratings.
Frankly, there are no clear answers. To be sure, though, we would benefit tremendously if political discourse were more about shedding light than heat. And I commend Palin for getting rid of that misguided map. But instead of just blaming the firebrands, it behooves us to question why so many of us consume their “inflammatory crap” like brain-dead twits.
No doubt technology proliferates and disseminates fiery rhetoric on a scale today that was heretofore unimaginable. This means that many more impressionable lunatics might be on the receiving end….
But I am acutely mindful that there has never been a time in U.S. history when political firebrands did not incite violence. Indeed, I can imagine similar soul searching, finger pointing, and scapegoating taking place after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
In this latter respect, similar presidential pledges were made after the assassination of JFK, the assassination of MLK, the Oklahoma bombing, the shooting rampages at Columbine and Virginia Tech, and many other such unspeakable acts. Yet, in each case, subsequent acts of senseless violence rendered those pledges hollow….
No laws can prevent these kinds of human tragedies. Incidents like this bring into stark relief the fact that it’s not guns, but insane and troubled people – with motives no one can possibly anticipate or comprehend – who commit murderous rampages…
Therefore, let us look to psychologists to help us understand what triggers such psychotic human behavior; not to politicians to legislate against it or pundits to cast blame.
(Massacre at Virginia Tech, April 17, 2007)
In fact, given the way American laws make guns so readily available, and the way this culture glorifies gun violence, we really should be thanking our lucky stars that there aren’t many more rampages like this.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of all those affected.
NOTE: Am I the only one who finds it ironic that, in a state where guns are reportedly as commonplace as mobile phones, nobody managed to draw a gun and shoot this bastard…? And am I the only one who is thanking God today that the shooter was not an Hispanic illegal immigrant…?
* This commentary was published originally on Sunday, January 9, at 2:30 pm