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The Assassination Attempt in Arizona

Tuesday, January 11, 2011
I'm sure all of you have heard about the terrible incident in Arizona, where U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords was shot and a number of bystanders killed, including a nine year old girl and a federal judge. I waited a few days to clear my head on the matter and to watch the depressingly predictable course of public discussion about the shooting. I'm not going to parse the question of blame anymore than to say that I believe that inflammatory rhetoric by right-wing politicians, lax gun control laws, and an inadequate mental health system probably all contributed to the event. There's been a great deal of discussion on this question to which I have little new to add.

Instead I'd like to describe how I found out about the murders. I was sitting on my couch watching television and trying to ignore my bird's temper tantrum when my cellphone rang. A friend I hadn't spoken to in a few months was calling to tell me what had happened. The connection wasn't a good one and at first I thought he was saying that Kathy Lee Giffords had been murdered, which I thought rather strange. He repeated the name. It took a moment for me to remember who Gabby Giffords was, but once I understood why my friend had called me. He's an elected official in a previous place I used to live, one I'd helped get elected and with whom I'd become very close. He'd spoken many times with me about his concerns that the growing radicalism of the right wing was going to lead to political violence. I'd always hoped he was wrong but feared he wasn't. Anyone who attends public functions understands that there are a lot of disturbed people out there, people who don't realize violent political metaphors aren't meant to be taken literally. My friend was deeply shaken. Aside from any personal fears he might have about his own safety, he has two young children. I tried to comfort him, but there was little I could say. We both knew that nothing would be done to reduce the ferocity of the debate. The only question is whether there is a second attack against a Democratic officeholder, and if there is whether it will finally force the right to pull back or whether it will simply spark copycats.

There's the intellectual concerns I have, that the principal thing distinguishing the contemporary right from fascist movements is the use of political violence. Should assassinations of elected leaders become commonplace our republic will be placed in the most profound jeapordy. At the end of day such considerations are mere abstractions, however. My stakes in the issue are more personal.

I have a lot of friends in politics, some of whom are elected officials and others who work for them. Any of them could be the next victim. What's more, I could be one of them. I go to a lot of Democratic political events. I used to work for an officeholder, and I will probably do so again. Some day I could be another Gabe Zimmerman. I even used to have his job title.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:27 AM
  • The main thing is, in this country, crazy people can get guns easily.

    I remember when Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated within months of each other, just 5 years after JFK. It was such a dark time in this country, you could feel it everywhere, in everyone.

    Then from 1972 to 1981, when Gov. Wallace was shot and Presidents Ford & Reagan had very close calls, with James Brady almost dying and John Lennon being killed in between, it seemed like we were going to that dark place again.

    I think there is definitely a link these days between right wing rhetoric and the violent attacks on politicians. But we have a history in this country of high profile assassinations. And we are developing one for violence in schools. Oh, and remember disgruntled postal workers? That series of shootings started in 1985 and went on for years.

    All of that because it is so very easy for crazies to get hold of a gun. Is there any other developed nation where this is true? I can't think of one offhand.

    So, yes, the right needs to be held accountable for their rhetoric. And God knows we need better mental health care in this country. But, when it comes to violence of this nature, I can't help but think that so much of it could be mitigated by way more stringent gun control laws. Just common sense stuff that will make it a lot harder to keep firearms of any kind out of the hands of lunatics.

    By Blogger Rebecca, at 12:25 PM  
  • Or, rather, a lot harder for lunatics to get their hands on a gun.

    By Blogger Rebecca, at 12:26 PM  
  • Gah. Palin's refusal to acknowledge that rhetoric has consequences that might be unintentional is irritating and frustrating and underlines her own ignorance. To call it 'blood libel' only makes it worse.

    By Blogger Belle, at 7:38 PM  
  • Rebecca: Yeah, I'm a little depressed that even the most tepid gun regulations are being gutted. I mean yes, you can murder people with a bat, but it takes a lot more work.

    Belle: Palin is just a train wreck.

    By Blogger Arbitrista, at 9:43 PM  
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