With the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and some of those waiting to meet with her or listen to her speak, there has been considerable online chatter about the causes of the shooter’s rampage. Some of the earliest comments I read online blamed Sarah Palin directly and the Tea Party movement in general. Then came the accusations against Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Then the Right rightly started deflecting the blame by pointing out that the shooter is an advocate of flag burning and is apparently anti-religion. Those are generally very much at odds with the ideology of the Right. Further, they pointed out that a couple of his favorite books were The Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf. Again, anything but traditional “Right” reading material. Clearly these all put him squarely with a Left ideology? Right?
Still, many of the news sources blamed (and still blame) the “toxic political environment” (or a “climate of hate“) with the implication that it is toxic because of the Tea Party movement. It seems that people and the media have a serious retrograde amnesia for the kind of vitriol spewed against the previous administration, even before Pres. Bush was elected President. Then there was the hatred against Pres. Clinton before that, and the attacks against Pres. Bush before that, and against Pres. Reagan, Pres. Carter, and so forth. The rhetoric only seems more poignant given the prevalence of the Internet and people’s lives bounded by a myopic state of acontextia; in other words, people either are not aware of or willfully ignore context and history. Markedly few people who either want to preserve the past (conservatives) or change it (liberals) are aware of it. There is considerable blindness on both sides and in the middle. I’m not claiming I have unfettered vision, I have my own cataracts, but I do try to be inclusive of context.
So is the Right more violent? Well, if you look at the 4 presidents who were assassinated, three were Republicans and only one a Democrat. Clearly Democrats and liberals are more violent. I have to clarify that I am using a touch of sarcasm to make some points. My point is that we cannot simply create a binary Left/Right classification and start blaming sides. Views and issues and actions are considerably more complicated than that. Another point is that I can take everything out of context. Meaning that when I stated that we have had 3 Republican presidents assassinated to 1 Democrat, and thus Democrats are more violent, that ignores a lot of historical context. It means, in part, that I am judging the actions of the past through the knowledge of the present, which can be troublesome. It can be troublesome when those judgments are doing things like criticizing Isaac Newton for not incorporating theories of quantum mechanics into his theories.
What we really need to do is respect the wounded, dead, and the families of those affected (including the family of the shooter) and then move on and let the justice system do its work. In this case we clearly know the shooter is guilty. That is not remotely questionable. What will be questioned is his mental state; it should be questioned. He is guilty but is he culpable for his guilt? That is to be established.
Of course, gun control advocates are taking this as an opportunity to promote their cause. That’s a knee-jerk reaction similar to calling for a ban or for more restrictions on automobile ownership if the shooter had plowed a car into a group of people instead of shot them. People will always find ways to kill each other. Yes, guns are very efficient at killing but that’s not necessarily an excuse to limit their ownership. If you want to ban what kills a lot of people, ban smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. Ban junk food and soda. Those all kill more people than gun violence does. [Again, I’m not saying we should ban all those, I’m just pointing out the inconsistencies in some arguments].
I want to offer a radical explanation and solution for what was responsible for the shooter’s actions – he was. I recognizing that there is a slight possibility that he is not responsible for his actions due to serious mental illness but that is for the legal system to sort out. So really the only thing we (including the media) should talk about is moving on and not pointing fingers of blame. I know that is such a radical idea when it is so easy to blame Sarah Palin, Right-wing wackos, drugs, guns, political climates (which are, by the way, fueled by the media), a failed education system, or whatever else people can think of. The person who needs to be blamed is the shooter. A lot societal problems could be benefitted if people started accepting personal responsibility for things. This is something that we need from individual citizens all the way up to the Administration. There is too much of pointing fingers in blame and not enough acceptance of our own responsibilities.
We need to stop focusing on the shooter and move on. That is why I did not include the shooter’s name. It does no good to try and place blame on anyone else. Sometimes people just do terrible things because they choose to do them.
Update: Connor Boyack has good and similar post on his blog. Read his post for good insight into the controversy over the shooting.
There is also a good WSJ.com opinion piece by Glenn Reynolds about the shooting and the blame game.