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The shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona congresswoman, on Saturday was a horrible tragedy. What it has turned into, unfortunately but predictably, is a political football.
Not long after Giffords was wounded and six others were killed by Jared Loughner, TV pundits began questioning the motives of the shooter. Most of the reactions we saw had him pigeonholed as a right wing nut with an axe to grind against Giffords, a Democrat. Among the many problems with jumping to those kinds of conclusions is that none of the folks doing the talking had any idea who Loughner was, or where he falls on the political spectrum. We’re not sure why, when deducing what drove someone to commit a horrid act of violence, a person’s first impulse would be to figure out whether they are a tea-partier or not. Maybe people who live and breathe politics have trouble thinking outside that sphere, or maybe they have some sort of built-in bias. There has to be more involved than just ideology, since every elected official is opposed by about 50 percent of the population. Rarely do those disagreements manifest themselves in violence.
In the hours and days since the shooting, a person who knows Loughner described his political views as “left wing.” It also came out that he is a fan of the communist manifesto. Not exactly hard core Republican reading material. Again, none of that has anything to do with the atrocity he committed, but it at least somewhat disproves the original picture painted of Loughner.
That hasn’t stopped a number of public figures (including South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn and Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik) from blaming the shooting on hate speech, which in their minds is uttered by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. Frankly, the assertions, discredited by all available facts, come off as political opportunism.
From all accounts, Loughner was a loner and a really weird guy. He had a skull shrine in his back yard. He posted videos on the internet where he alleged that the government was using grammar as a means of mind control on citizens. He was kicked out of college and told not to come back until he’d had some sort of mental evaluation assuring the school he was not a threat to himself or others. A classmate said she figured he’d show up with a gun one day and start shooting. One professor said he is certain Loughner was not influenced by talk radio or by Palin’s pre-election map that had bulls-eyes on vulnerable Democratic districts, including Giffords’, since those things exist in our world. Loughner, he said, doesn’t live in the same world as the rest of us.
Loughner may be crazy or may be evil, but there doesn’t appear to be evidence that Loughner got all torked up over health reform listening to talk radio or watching TV. Anyone wanting to question how a person in Loughner’s mental state was able to buy a gun is probably on solid ground. Anyone who insists his deranged behavior and violent actions were fueled by external voices in the political arena are either badly misguided or are bringing their personal grudges into the discussion. Clyburn and Dupnik have both asserted that talk radio is dangerous, part of the problem and driving people to commit violent acts. In their minds, a big chunk of the population is made up of loose cannons ready to go off at any verbal prompting. Maybe they bought into the cases from the ‘80s that heavy metal drove people to kill themselves. The noise needs to stop, they say. Clyburn favors endowing the government with the power to regulate speech on the radio and TV.
What they don’t seem interested in discussing is that the attempt on Giffords’ life was the first against a member of congress in decades. There is nothing in the DNA of a conservative, or a liberal, a libertarian or a communist that makes them more or less likely to commit an act of violence.
Loughner did what he did because he is deranged, not because of where he comes down on border security.
The noise does need stop...the noise coming from those using tragedy to further their own agendas.
Chester News & Reporter editorial on the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords. Chester News & Reporter is a sister paper to The Lancaster News.