The Tucson Shooting, Gun Violence, & The State of Political Rhetoric in America
That the shooting a fortnight ago in Tucson, Arizona, that left many (including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl) dead and several others (including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords) gravely injured was a vile and abhorrent act of political violence enjoys unanimity can hardly be rebuffed.
Traditional opinion-molders in the media and leaders on either side of the political spectrum have been unified in their expression of horror: President Obama called it an “unspeakable tragedy.” Even as she attracted considerable odium from both detractors and previously ardent supporters for her controversial eight-minute “blood libel” telecast on Facebook, Sarah Palin described it as an act of “monstrous criminality.”
A considerable portion of the chatter that ensued around the incident in the mainstream media focused puzzlingly on the rather nonsensical supposition that the act was a culmination from or direct consequence of the recent ratcheting of rhetoric in our political discourse.
In other words, that the persistent and piercing incivility amongst the political elite has exacerbated the ideological gulf in such a away that unsuspecting citizens, especially those with limited cognitive abilities or known to be certifiably disturbed, are taking up arms to settle arguably diffused political grievances.
While I agree that the tenor and content of the expressions from the conservative coalition over the last two election cycles had gotten noticeably rancorous and pungent, establishing causality or some correlation between that reality and individual acts of violence is a huge reach. If anything, and as has been my conviction all along, much of the acrimony we have witnessed in this regard is primarily resulting from the disquiet that the racist, white-supremacist wings of the GOP have been feeling ever since Obama rode into town.
But back to the prattle on the airwaves about the Tucson shooting, two things appear to have forlornly attracted tepid or lukewarm consideration; even malevolent neglect.
First, is the fact that the media coverage of the incident was predictably and aggravatingly slanted.
The choice to focus exclusively on Jared Lee Loughner’s mental health status is one that assuredly would not have been the case were he say a Mustapha Mohammed.
Fact is, if he were the latter, even if it were known from the onset that he had not only acted alone but been diagnosed deranged, we certainly still would not have been spared the agony of suffering through the same all-too-familiar barrage of screaming, over-sensationalized references to terror, terrorists and the war on terror.
Like Tim McVeigh, Joseph Stack (the Texan guy who flew his chopper into a federal building) and the Michigan Hutaree militia members before him, Loughner was lucky to be born with the “right” credentials!
Contrary to what Reagan, and now Palin, would like to have us all believe, not every American has the luxury or privilege of being presented through a prism that fundamentally and fiercely recognizes his or her individuality. For ethnic minorities, the acts of individual members are often, if not routinely, used to tarnish the group and sometimes even proffered as justification for importunate differential treatment.
Second, we seem to have missed yet another opportunity to foster a much-needed national debate on the relationship between guns and violence-related deaths and injuries in this country.
Beyond the fact that all four assassinations of seating US Presidents involved the use of a handgun or rifle, and that most comparative studies show that America outpaces other industrialized countries on annual gun fatalities, numbers supplied by the Centers for Disease Control CDC), by far the definitive and most authoritative source for US injury death statistics, show that more than 29,000 people in the US perish each year because of “Suicide Firearm” or “Homicide Firearm.”
Can you imagine literally having a little more than one 9/11 every month or a Vietnam every two years?
I know the National Rifle Association (NRA), it’s well-funded gun lobby, 2nd Amendment purists, and average gun enthusiasts can hardly wait to jump all over me in protest, citing a plethora of extenuating antecedent or interceding variables that could be employed to articulate a plausible explanation for the current situation.
But that certainly would never change the fact that unless we muster the political will to have the kind of open, honest dialogue about the crisis that is warranted, we would ever be just one incident away from more agony and tears, repeated calls for prayers for the dead and their families, and perhaps yet another stirring, beautifully-rendered presidential speech!