For the longest time I thought it was funny. Well, maybe not funny just kinda weird. The very first night I lived in Tucson Arizona I turned on the local news and was greeted by an interview with a local law enforcement Chief thanking a couple of residents for their quick action in helping one of his officers.
It seems they had seen him, the officer, chasing a suspect and had jumped out of their car and helped him. Jumped out of their car with their guns drawn. Their legal guns. The Chief was saying thanks and encouraging other citizens to do the same thing. You gotta be kidding me I thought. He wasn't.
This is the same place in which Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' opponent in the last election, Jesse Kelly, invited citizens to come on down and shoot his M16 with him as part of his campaign. This is the same state where it's legal to carry licensed firearms on your hip and throw a few back in the bar. This is the same place in which a friend of my wife's never, never ever, left home without her handgun. Loaded. She's a very nice lady.
This is the place where the local Sheriff now calls his state, Arizona, quote, '...the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.' It may be 'the mecca', but the religion of prejudice and bigotry runs deep in America.
Giffords' congressional seat was one of the one's 'targeted' by Sarah Palin, complete with crosshair symbolism.
When Jared Loughner, 22, opened fired on Saturday at the corner of Oracle and Ina in Tucson, Arizona, a place I have driven past many, many times, he did so with a legal handgun, using legal ammunition.
Take a good look at Jared Loughner's picture. Then take a good look in the mirror. We have seen the assassin and he is us.
Saturday's shooting of Congresswoman Giffords, which killed Arizona's chief federal judge and five others, including a 9 year old girl, and injured 12 other people, is not only tragic but reflective. Reflective of who we are as a nation, a people. Yes the hand wringing has begun. The usual calls for gun control. The usual retort of guns not killing people, but people killing people.
Blame the rhetoric some are saying. The 'vitriolic' rhetoric is the cause. It's not. We are. The rhetoric may be a sign. The lack of gun control may be a symptom. But the root cause is us, what's inside us or what isn't. We pride ourselves on toughness. The 'pioneer spirit', the Western, as in John Wayne, ethic, Manifest Destiny, crush the opposition, 'killer' apps, the list is endless. It is in our DNA, in our culture, to stand up for what we believe in and make the 'other' guy back down. George C. Scott as Patton telling his troops to let '...the other poor bastard die for his country...' and on and on.
So what's wrong with all that? In the shadow of Saturday's shooting and deaths the knee jerk answer would be 'everything'. But we've had shootings and deaths before. Loughner just joins a long list of American assassins, killers. The balm that most people are putting on this open cut on American society is the usual one, the A&D ointment of our collective conscience---he's crazy. He's gotta be right? Who else would do something like this?
But wait, it happens everyday. In fact the killings outside the Safeway store in Tucson weren't the only ones in the country that day. Heck, they weren't the only ones in Tucson that day. Does killing a judge or a 9 year old make them any more onerous? Unfortunately not. We are essentially a violent society plastered over by manufactured civility. Laws and social circumstance are the gauze that covers our wounds--economic, political, and social. But gauze can be torn and there comes a time when you have to address the wounds themselves and not just the fabric that binds them. Who are we as people? Who are you as a person?
I read an interesting article recently by a very good writer, certainly superior to yours truly, who expressed just such a concern in a unique way.
Before the shootings in Tucson the topic of who we are in our soul had been raised for me most recently by the death of John Wheeler, a man instrumental in the funding and building of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. His body was found in a landfill. In the wake of the discovery there is surveillance video of him wandering, disoriented, in various locations. There is no video of anyone helping him. There are interviews with witnesses who saw him wandering, in obvious distress. There are no witnesses who stopped to help.
Who are we I wondered? Then came Saturday in Tucson. We live in a society that deletes an offensive word from an American classic and yet how many of us use that word in our minds or under our breath? How do you delete that?
How can I sit in American suburbia in the 21st century and listen to a thoughtful guy talk about 'them' pulling themselves up by their boot straps?
We are in for weeks now of discussion about the symptoms of what happened in Tuscon, but will we get to the root cause? Will we have the guts to look in the mirror and see a little bit of Jared Loughner staring back? And if we do will we muster the determination to change that piece of us? Or do we want to? It will be too easy to make some crazy guy in Arizona the scapegoat for what we really need to do. Unless of course easy is what we're looking for.