01/12/2011 05:28 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

We Just Lost a Bit More of Our Innocence

Because of the unprecedented manner that America was fast tracked from fledgling upstart to world power, there is a tendency to forget we still cling to aspects of innocence that belie our world power status.

In addition to events such as the JFK assassination, Oklahoma City and 9/11 tragedies, we must also add last week's shooting in Tucson, AZ, to the glossary of transformative moments that robbed more of our innocence.

A deranged young man shot 20 people, six fatally, during Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' constituent meeting, who at the time of this writing is fighting for her life in a Tucson hospital.

Senseless violence always leaves more questions than it readily provides answers. But in our profoundly American tradition, such frustrating realities do not prohibit us from seeking to prematurely fill in the blanks.

Who can we blame for this tragedy? The obvious candidate is Jared Lee Loughner, the 22-year-old suspect, who was arrested at the scene.

But that's seems unsatisfactory for a nation that must have definitive answers.

Was it the level of barbarous discourse that is increasingly becoming a hallmark in our contemporary political rhetoric the motivator for Loughner's heinous actions?

Should we place some of the blame on former Alaska governor Sarah Palin whose infamous posting on her website of a map targeting certain congressional districts with crosshairs, including Giffords'?

How about former Nevada Republican senatorial candidate, Sharon Angle, who advocated during last year's midterm elections for "Second Amendment remedies," doesn't she deserve some culpability?

On its face, I can certainly see how one might conclude the Tucson tragedy reflects those Second Amendment remedies that Angle was referring.

Though I find the actions and statements of Palin and Angle deplorable, there is no contributory relationship to the tragedy in Tucson.

Assuming momentarily Loughner was unduly influenced by vitriolic political rhetoric, what does that tell us beyond a crazed individual went too far?

There will be time to examine the nature of our political discourse, mental health issues, gun control, along with the fate of retail politics, as we currently know it -- issues raised as a result of this tragedy.

But not now, not while solemnity has temporarily taken hold the nation's moral conscience.
Immediately following such tragedies, the nation becomes vulnerable and reactionary.

Reactionary in the sense we must have immediate answers for that which may not ever produce a response that appeases our collective satisfaction. It also could be the genesis of legislation that looks backward more than it does forward.

Elected officials and pundits will take note of their rhetoric -- at least temporarily. But in the cyclical nature of politics, once the statute of limitations has been lifted, I suspect we will return to business as usual.

America's raucous political discourse is as old as the republic itself. What's different is the speed by which that discourse is now received.

But in our haste for answers we should not forget the beacon of hope exemplified in Christina Taylor-Green. She was the nine-year-old third-grader, born September 11, 2001, who was killed.

Christina had just been elected to the student council at Mesa Verde Elementary School and had been interested in politics. She was at the tragic scene to meet Congresswoman Gifford.
Christina had already informed her parents she wanted to attend Penn State University and have a career that involved helping those less fortunate.

Reactionary politics, however noble, glosses over the inconvenient love demonstrated by Dorwin Stoddard, 76, who lost his life diving on the ground covering his wife Mavy, who was shot in the leg three times but survived. Or the valor of Bill Badger, a 74-year-old retired Army colonel, grazed by a bullet in the back of his head as he help subdue the assailant.

Even under such horrific circumstances, the best of America was still on display.

In the immediate aftermath of this tragedy, it serves the interest of none to use it as the self-fulfilling prophecy that justifies what one already holds as their impervious truth.

Does that mean those who advocate for gun control, lowering the political rhetoric, or raising questions about mental health issues are wrong to do so?


It means at a moment that appears to cry out for action, restraint might prove not only to be the most prudent path, but also the one that leads to the best result going forward.

Regardless of what happens as a result of this tragedy, we are permanently robbed of another portion of our innocence and there is no way to reclaim it.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at or visit his Web site