Part of the reason is that we allow easy access to automatic weapons. Suspected killer Jared Lee Loughner was able to wreak such horiffic devastation in just a few seconds.
Another component is our lack of mental health services. Even a cursory look at his YouTube videos shows he had a shaky hold on sanity at best.
But another factor that deserves serious attention is the violent imagery and rhetoric that Tea Party conservatives are injecting into our political discourse. Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik has it right. When you take unbalanced people and immerse them in irresponsible hate-mongering, there are consequences.
Giffords herself warned of the danger, and the European press such as The Guardian lays the blame at the feet of the right wing, in ways that our press is often afraid to do.
I was pleased to see MSNBC‘s Keith Olbermann and Talking Points Memo‘s John Marshall saying last night that an epidemic of violence resembles a flu epidemic. Both hit the infirm the hardest. We may find that Jared Loughner is too ill to have a coherent politics, but he inhabits a culture where Sarah Palin, a mainstream candidate for our second-highest office, is somehow treated as a cute Mama Grizzly for putting crosshairs on Rep. Giffords’ 8th district.
Ironically, the right, the same group that would be the quickest to decry violence in movies and video games, refuses to accept any share of the responsibility for what happened in Arizona. John Boehner, the new Speaker of the House, just had an opportunity to act as a statesman and announce that Sarah Palin’s political career should be over. He instead offered perfunctory wishes for the family and an assurance that this would not stop politicians from their business – as he canceled the vote on repealing the “Job Killing” Obamacare bill. The vote is a ploy to revive the kind of divisive discourse from the summer of hate rallies across the country that helped get us here.
Yes, political contestants have always used the metaphor of war. But there is a difference between casting politics as a battle of combatants and talk of killing and images of weaponry.
Priming theory suggests showing the image of a gun increases aggressive impulses in viewers. Social learning theory proposes that kids in our culture grow up learning that violence is the answer.
They aren’t the only reasons or even the main reasons that someone like Loughner picks up a gun. But they poison the culture and make it easier for such incidents to happen.
Back when I was associate director of the National Center for Community Policing, I would frequently appear as a call-in telephone guest on talk radio in Detroit. Right-wing talk radio was just beginning to ratchet up the hate. I became increasingly concerned about what callers were willing to say on air. I finally decided to stop appearing when one caller said he had a gun on the car seat next to him, and he knew where I lived.
Progressive talk radio and cable TV news doesn’t do this. If Keith Olbermann goes too far, he apologizes as he did last night. To win elections, Republicans have been willing to pander to the racists and the crazies. They smirk when asked about Tea Party events where people come armed to the teeth.
They have been playing with fire. Now they have been burned. And we must not let them deflect the blame by saying both sides do it.