I’m angry. I’m hurt. I’m sad. I’m too shocked to try to explain my feelings beyond elementary vocabulary. I’m sending all my positive energy to Rep. Giffords in hopes that she survives. I keep thinking about the nine-year old girl, Christina Green, who was killed. This violence is abhorrent, and there are a lot of victims, but as I lay in bed last night, I thought of this little girl and her parents. I watched my parents bury their daughter. I believe there is nothing worse in this world than outliving your children. It’s against the natural order of life. So I’ve been thinking a lot about Christina’s family. You can read more about her here (emotional warning). I do recommend Rebecca Traister’s excellent piece about Rep. Giffords.
A number of my friends have referenced Sarah Palin’s hit list (a map of targeted districts, marked by the cross hairs of a gun). Rep. Giffords was one of those targeted. Per the New York Times: “We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list,” Ms. Giffords said last March. “But the thing is the way that she has it depicted has the cross hairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that.”
Apparently they don’t. One of Palin’s aides is defending the gun graphic. I believe words have consequences, and conventional wisdom tells us a picture is worth a thousand words.
To some extent, I want to assign blame, but it’s not a priority. There’s a lot of culpability. Is the Tea Party to blame for a movement characterized by anger? I think they share some responsibility, and as Jon Stewart said, they should take it down a notch, for America. Are the conservatives who spout the violent rhetoric to blame for their language? I think they share some responsibility and should recognize that word have consequences and stop using such violent imagery. Is Sarah Palin to blame for her gunsights? I think she shares some responsibility and should acknowledge that in this atmosphere (which I believe she helped create) using crosshairs to mark congressional seats you want to retake is not a good idea and should stop. Are we all to blame for not having stronger regulations in place for the purchase and use of guns? I think we share some responsibility for not making it a priority and not electing officials who make it a priority.
In a press conference, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, said the following:
“When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous,” said the sheriff. “And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”
The quote was in the NYT story last night, but I can’t find it there anymore. HuffPost has the story. When asked if this shooting was motivated by prejudice and bigotry, Sheriff Dupnik said “All I can tell you is that there’s reason to believe that this individual may have a mental issue. And I think that people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol.”
Can we each be held responsible for every person’s interpretation of something we say or do? No. But we should be more aware that violent rhetoric will likely lead to violent action. Urging your followers to “reload” (Sarah Palin) and take “second amendment remedies” (Tea Partier Sharon Angle) is not a good idea. And it needs to stop. Joan Walsh says it best in her piece Swearing off the rhetoric of violence: “[this] ought to make conservatives pause. More than pause, it ought to make them denounce those in their ranks who are using extremist, eliminationist rhetoric. Let’s hope it does in the days to come. In the meantime, our prayers and good wishes are with Gabrielle Giffords and her family and all the other victims of Saturday’s cruelty.”
Some of the Tea Partiers are already behaving as victims. The NYT didn’t reprint Sheriff Dupnik’s comments, but it did have space to quote Judson Phillips of Tea Party Nation who said those of us on the left will blame the tea party, regardless of the shooters association, but that there are extremists on the left and right. Yes, there are extremists on the left and right, but I can’t help but feel that my side is more likely to be murdered by the extremists. Gabby Giffords was targeted and may not survive. Gabe Zimmeran, her director of community outreach, was killed. Dr. Tiller was murdered. Dr. King. The Kennedys. I know this is a simplification, and I’m sure there have been some prominent conservative figures who were assassinated, but off the top of my head, I can’t think of any.
Furthermore, the violent eliminationist language seems to dominant on the right side of the political sphere. Part of the power of words is the speaker, the deliverer of the message. At a training I attended a few years ago, we were discussing hateful language regarding sexual orientation. The presenter explained that because of power dynamics and privilege, there is more threat associated with a group of straight guys in a pickup truck yelling homophobic slurs at a gay man on the street than if that same pickup truck were filled with a group of gay guys yelling at a straight man on the street. This is one reason I’m more fearful of the violent rhetoric on the right.
I still don’t know much about the shooter or his motives. I’m trying not to remember his name. I’ve read that he was mentally unstable and that he had problems at the community college where he was enrolled. I don’t know how he obtained the gun he used. I’m troubled that someone in his condition had a gun. Perhaps every conceivable safeguard could not have prevented the violence yesterday. But was this gun purchased at a gun show filled with loopholes to avoid gun regulations? Was there a background check? A waiting period? Had he taken a gun safety course? We don’t allow people to drive cars without being licensed. Why do we allow people to have guns without demonstrating they know how to safely operate them?
These are the questions I’m asking. There should be some answers to these questions, answers we can understand and evaluate. Actions we can take in response. Policies we can implement and laws we can change. I’m a policy analyst, so that’s my next step. In the meantime, I’m making a donation to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and keeping Gabby Giffords, Christina Green, all the other victims and their families in my thoughts.