Sunday, January 9, 2011

Guns Over Arizona

The near fatal assault on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tuscon, Arizona (which killed six and placed another twelve people in hospital) yesterday points towards a wider trend towards violence and militancy within the US. This perspective, while not necessarily endorsed by the raging and imagery of the political right, is certainly advanced by the rhetoric used frequently by the far right. This rhetoric seemingly endorses violence, and in the face of rising anti-government militarism within the United States, this rhetoric clearly helps to re-enforce much of what we see in the United States. That right-wing political commentators such as Sarah Palin and Glen Beck seem to endorse these militant groups as patriots but then change their rhetorical tunes in the face of violent incidents like this one is deeply vulgar. Further, this rhetoric, placed in the hands of those already mentally unstable and compounded by the problem of far to easily accessible hand-guns in the United States seems to have further contributed to Congresswoman Giffords’ shooting. To whit, Sarah Palin's Political Action Committee website until today included a map of the US with "crosshairs" centered on various House Democrats throughout the country, including Giffords, introduced by the ‘tweeted’ tagline: "Don't retreat, instead - RELOAD!"  This violent imagery was re-enforced by Giffords’ Tea-Party backed opponent, Jessey Kelly, who ran an ad which said: "Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jessey Kelly."

Michael Tomasky in the Guardian draws the very obvious linkage between this type of rhetoric and what happened in Arizona.  Giffords had previously received death threats for her decision to vote the Health Care Bill earlier this year, and further had previously had her campaign office shot at.  All in all, the celebration of heavily armed radicals as Patriots by the right further re-enforces the long tradition of violence directed towards elected leaders and may serve as a means of re-affirming, if not emboldening, those who are mentally unstable and willing to inflict violence on others to make political points.  Again, the tendency remains chilling.

What fails to be adequately dealt with however is the ease of handgun availability as a further contributing factor.  In most other developed countries, even given the destitute ideology of the shooters, strict gun control laws would have made it far more difficult, if not impossible for the shooter to bring his plans to fruition.

There are mounds of data indicating that guns pose a net societal harm, that gun ownership rates correlate with crime rates - particularly with homicide rates where a gun is involved, that countries with stricter gun laws tend to see less overall violence, that the presence of a gun in the home is likely to increase the occurrence of homicide, as well as numerous cases that document easy gun access and insurrection seemingly going hand-in-hand.  In Arizona, where gun ownership is high and Tea Party members were said to frequently carry and brandish handguns at rallies, this vicious incident has retrospectively taken on something of an air of inevitability. 

What should come out of this is, not only a greater willingness to address to address the underlying issues that allow fringe radicals to commit violence, but also much stricter psychological screenings that would seek to prevent those with violent tendencies or paranoid fantasies about the government from purchasing ordinance. 

While the 2nd amendment holds that gun ownership is a clear civil right, it prefaces this with a clause justifying said right by noting the need for a ‘well regulated Militia’ being ‘necessary for the security of a free state’.  The constitution had previously defined said Militia as being what we would today recognize as the National Guard.  This makes sense in the face of the constitutional requirement that the army be disbanded following each major conflict – thus, gun-ownership seems to have been included by the constitutional framers on the grounds that re-invasion by the British, without a standing Army, was a very real consideration.  However, this argument has been rendered null by omnipresence of the military today.

The argument that handguns are a necessary component for self-defense likewise does not hold water, as the majority of guns purchased for self-defense are not used that way.  Supply and demand appear to be what affect guns and violent crime and rational gun control, with limitations on the number of guns allowed in circulation, could go far to preventing further incidents like this and making societal as a whole safer.  Our current policies towards guns and our inability to effectively enforce what regulation does exist is something akin to arming the mad house.  No individual right to arms and ‘perceived’ safety should compromise the greater right of society to genuine safety.  This cowboy mentality within the United States, both towards guns, and to the political rhetoric used needs to be addressed before our streets are again stained crimson.

1 comment:

Alex Deley said...

I also think that one of the things that is very telling about this is the tendency of the far right and specifically the Tea Party to perpetually play the victims. It is pretty galling to think of affluent white people are somehow a victimized minority in any way, shape or form. This mentality is particularily galling in the face of the Arizona shooting, in which the head of the Arizona Tea Party had some choices things to say (link:, most tellingly:

"That's the tragedy for my family and what we're trying to do politically."

To which one might reply, being shot in the head vs not being able to advance your political agenda, which mostly consists of cutting your taxes are not really even in the same universe of tragedy.