I have been away for a while, but now I’m back. There’s been a lot of coverage about the AZ shooting, and the political repercussions. What happened was clearly a tragedy, but it’s interesting to examine whether the words and actions of public figures may have led to this tragedy, or may lead to other tragedies in the future.
It’s clear this was a politically motivated shooting. The specific motivations are mysterious and seem crazy, but it probably wasn’t random that the victims included a U.S. congresswoman and a federal judge at a public event.
It’s an interesting question whether certain conservatives and tea partiers pushed an agenda or messages in ways that could have influenced this tragedy. I think this question is very complicated. On one hand, there is a substantive 2nd amendment/gun rights agenda out there, and it doesn’t necessarily condone illegal actions or human violence.
This agenda was sometimes advanced with intense rhetoric that, in the context of this week’s events, could be taken to imply condonation of violent acts or violent thoughts. But, we should only interpret rhetoric based on the context in which it was made. Sarah Palin probably never thought her Gabby Giffords crosshairs were more than a cute, unrealistic analogy. There is also no evidence that the shooter was aware of the rhetoric or that he responded to it in any particular way. Most of the existing evidence indicates that he wasn’t influenced by it.
But, could it have influenced such a person, and might it influence others in the future? I think so. The 2nd Amendment is pretty stupid. Gun rights don’t need to be decided at the constitutional level, certainly not with such confusing constitutional language. And I don’t think people need gun rights beyond hunting rifles and home protection, and that ought to be heavily regulated. I think assault rifles and the kinds of handguns like the glock used in this shooting should be banned. But, that’s not how the law works, and I think that generally facilitates gun violence.
I also think the rhetoric was somewhat, but not extremely, inappropriate. Conservatives tried to rouse the base by characterizing the other side as an enemy, and of course all parties do that, but the conservatives made unusually overt suggestions of violence, and that’s not right. Also, for the last couple years, conservatives and tea partiers have been reminding voters that citizens in a democracy can respond to bad government with overthrow and violence. These principles have been invoked too easily, for normal political debates, and in irresponsibly ambiguous terms. This stuff may have had an effect on the AZ shooting, and we’ll never be able to know for sure. It could also influence future violence.
While I don’t think we should interpret rhetoric based on events that came later, I think we can judge the rhetoric based on events that came later. And the way a lot of conservatives talked now sounds wrong, and I don’t think it’s unfair to conservatives to say that.
This could be a nearly perfect storm to tear Palin and a lot of conservatives apart, and that’s unfair in many ways, and fair in some other ways. I think this might make a lot of people realize that our culture is too heavy on gun rights, and that conservatives say a lot of dumb, macho, irresponsible things. Of course, liberals do too, and recent events put a little more light on the conservatives, but I am not sure who to blame for that. I don’t agree that the media is as bad as David Brooks, in his recent, unusually bad article, describes.