How much further comment does this really need? "TUCSON — Representative Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, and at least 17 others were shot Saturday morning when a gunman opened fire outside a supermarket where Ms. Giffords was meeting with constituents. Six of the victims died, among them John M. Roll, the chief judge for the United States District Court for Arizona, and a 9-year-old girl, the Pima County sheriff, Clarence W. Dupnik, said." (In Attack’s Wake, Political Repercussions, Marc Lacey and David M. Herszenhorn, NYT 08 January 2011).
First of all, my thoughts are with the victims (at this writing Giffords is still alive but in critical condition with a bullet wound to the head, while the dead include her director of community outreach, Gabriel Zimmerman, 30; a nine-year old girl identified as Christina Green; John M. Roll, 63, the chief judge for the United States District Court for Arizona; Dorothy Morris, 76; Dorwin Stoddard, 76; and Phyllis Schneck, 79) and their families.
What's wrong with this picture? Only last Tuesday, Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, was assassinated by one of his own bodyguards, who by his subsequent statements implied that this act was justified by Taseer's campaign to have Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws amended. Doubtless many of us, if we noticed the event at all, took the occasion to reflect on what a savage country Pakistan must be, where the course of history appears hostage to conspiring conservative politicians and fundamentalist religious lunatics.
Lucky for us, we don't live in such a place! But maybe we can get there yet. On the one hand, as many have already noted, there is growing in the US, especially since runup to the 2008 Presidential election and afterwards, a palpable atmosphere of "Violence-laced political rhetoric" promoted by right wing politicians, pundits, and bloggers. Thus the main intended victim, Congresswoman Giffords, was a Democrat squarely in the cross-hairs of right wing incitement. On the other hand, I have seen numerous comments suggesting that the captured gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, is actually a Liberal. Some of his classmates suggested as much. What is readily apparent is that he is a lunatic; but whose lunatic is he? Listed among Loughner's favorite books are Mein Kampf, We the Living, Plato's Republic, and the Communist Manifesto. The last, it has been suggested, is evidence for his Liberal fanaticism. Of course the author of Mein Kampf was also a well known Liberal (I've read explicit comparisons to President Obama, I suppose by people who don't know their left from their right), but what to make of We the Living, Ayn Rand's semi-autobiographical, anti-communist first novel? Does that make Loughner an Objectivist assassin?
Further evidence I've seen put forward for Loughner's supposed lefty associations: Giffords is a centrist, a Blue Dog Democrat, not a strong supporter of gun-control nor of open borders; and Judge Roll was a 1991 GHW Bush appointee. But how does that stack up against Giffords' 100% positive rating by NARAL and her strong support for renewable energy? Loughner apparently has no known Tea Party or other organized right-wing associations; fair enough, he's not that kind of crazy, just one more psychopath who brought his paranoid delusions to a deadly end with a 9mm Glock pistol carrying 30 rounds in the magazine. Maybe it's arguable whether or not the climate of violent rhetoric somehow provided a facilitating or suggestive atmosphere for Loughner's acts (personally I wouldn't shrink from arguing the pro side of that question); however, there's a bigger issue than eliminationist rhetoric at stake here, something much more fundamental and long-standing: why is it so easy for these crazy fuckers to get guns?