Tag Archives: Jared Lee Loughner

Let’s Talk About Guns

13 Jan

I’m guessing most of you don’t own a gun. The national rate is only 31%.  New York is half that. Many of our most vocal readers are liberals and Democrats, and while I have no data to back my assertion, I still feel relatively confident that the lefty New Yorker gun ownership rate is lower still.

You almost certainly don’t own a real gun. A rusting shotgun from your grandfather, half forgotten and stuffed in a corner in the basement, doesn’t count. A real gun is one cleaned, prepared, ready, with ammunition nearby, ready to kill people. Just in case.

If this sounds scary, offensive, paranoid, dangerous, or irresponsible, this article is for you. This is not an article about the tragedy in Tucson. It is also not an apologetic for any particular past rhetoric or ads from politicians, depicting guns and appealing to the people that treasure them. It is certainly not about Sarah Palin, constant victim and vocabulary enthusiast. This is an article about a cultural clash, a varied view of America and its history and potential future, brought to the surface by the heated political debate following the shooting of Rep Giffords. Consider me your safe bridge – let me translate and explain.

Within minutes of the shooting in Tucson, the right was asked to defend or atone for a political vocabulary that includes references to firearms and cross-hairs, explain carrying guns at political rallies, and renounce the need to ever resort to “Second Amendment remedies.” That last one particularly stung. To a certain segment of the population, that consider themselves not conspiracy theorists but historians, the voiced recognition that Second Amendment remedies exist resonated like a clear bell. The right dug in its heels. This violence was a horrific event, but not a reason to give up a fundamental right. In deed, THE fundamental right. Inadvertently, a sub-culture is now being exposed, and the basest motivations for prizing gun ownership above all else are coming to light.

Do not confuse this sub-culture with the Tea Party. They are not synonymous, though certainly the Second Amendment crowd leans right and sympathizes on some issues and there is overlap. But health care is a sideshow to their main event now requiring defense. They also do not align well with political parties – I would guess more un-affiliated members than Republicans, though few Democrats. Most of all they are not new – a wide-eyed suburban kid from Buffalo, I first encountered such folk in rural Wisconsin and South Dakota 15 years ago, where they made up a majority of my local acquaintances (“Have you bought yourself a good rifle yet, Brian?”). They were hardly new then – modern gun control started after Prohibition. Get out of New York, even rural New York, and spend a little time in Texas, New Mexico, Arkansas, Utah or Florida. You’ll meet plenty of decent individuals, unaffiliated with movement or party, who “cling to their guns,” in the condescending unknowing parlance of President Obama.

But why? Let me start by dispelling two myths. The gun control debate, for those who hold that issue to be their prime, is not about hunting. Hunting is a superficial nod by politicians seeking votes (see: Kerry, John). Killing ducks and geese hardly requires Bill of Rights treatment. This is also not about crime, or preventing crime by having more armed citizens. Though much public conversation about guns centers on crime (or even confusingly equates the two issues), such debates are defense actions by Second Amendment types against Liberal gun-controllers.  

No, this is about one issue, not oft stated: that it is the fundamental right (indeed, the most fundamental of rights) of all free persons to violently overthrow their government if required. Guns are the only way to ensure that right. Therefore, the gun is both the symbol and key requirement of lasting and true freedom.

Though rarely spoken, this is not a fringe idea in theory, and an undercurrent of much of American history and culture. It is an inconvenient truth for American peace lovers that our country’s birth and baptism by war left a mark, not just culturally, but in the Constitution. For supporters of the “right to revolution,” it is notable that the right to bear arms is Number Two in the Bill of Rights, after only speech, and before many other fundamentals, like search and seizure. The gun is as basic as Mom and baseball and apple pie, and present throughout American mythology: the cowboy, the settler, Davy Crockett and the Founding Fathers.

The gun symbolizes freedom, and ensures it literally, but it communicates other American shibboleths as well. It denotes independence and personal responsibility. More than that, the willingness to shoulder the most basic of personal responsibilities: keeping one and one’s family safe and secure, no matter the hazy umbrella of security government may provide. The courts are a delayed redress of grievances, and police cannot stop every crime. The gun provides me the power to defend my family and overthrow my government, should either eventuality comes to pass. Any freedom where I am beholden to the government for defense and safety is no true freedom, as I am dependent on others.   

Such ideas are harmless until violently acted upon, individually or as a group. The DHS warning of a rise in militia activity has parallels to the 1990’s incidents at Ruby Ridge and Waco, Texas. The potential increase in such activity (and to re-emphasize, there is no evidence of Loughner’s link to this philosophy) have left the Second Amendment true believers in a quandary. The idea that the People should be able to rise up in revolution is more attractive in theory than reality. Who decides when government has grown oppressive enough to warrant an overthrow? America will not overnight be transformed into the world of “V for Vendetta,” requiring obvious uprising. Signs are regularly sought – a health care mandate here, Nanny State regulations there. I don’t think long TSA lines and warrantless wiretaps are enough to justify revolution. Others disagree. The independent gun-clingers wait and watch, consciously considering as potentially possible what most Americans dismiss as ancient history. “If something happens to this country,” they say, “what are all these people going to do?”

Jacob Weisberg, in Slate, accurately sums up the current situation, where vote seeking politicians have adopted the idealistic Second Amendment true believer message to attract votes:

It was in criticizing writers on his own side for their naivete about communism that George Orwell wrote, “So much of left-wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don’t even know that fire is hot.” Today it is the right that amuses itself with violent chat and proclaims an injured innocence when its flammable words blow up.

Politicians of a previous generation more quietly indicated they were of like mind with Second Amendment supporters, without the cross-hair graphics and open displays of weaponry. That we might return there.

Blame and Motivation

11 Jan

Why did Jared Lee Loughner shoot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in the head, and then move on to 19 other victims, six of whom died? I don’t know. And neither do you, or anyone else. He knows alone, and perhaps some confidant yet to come forward.

This has not stopped those of good and ill will from speculating, or calling for changes in gun laws, or denouncing various groups with which they were already in opposition. The main focus, nationally, of such speculation surrounds Sarah Palin, her campaign rhetoric and graphics of crosshairs over candidates (including Giffords) and the general Tea Party love affair with not just praising the Second Amendment, but inserting guns into politics, sometimes literally.  

Sarah Palin is a shallow charlatan, an embarrassment to the Republican party, and the sooner she is disgraced and out of the national spotlight, the better. Her rhetoric is inflammatory, unhelpful to solving national problems, and divisive. Due to the history of political violence in our country, using gun crosshairs to denote targets, even opponents in legitimate political races, is in bad taste at least, if not irresponsible and dangerous. I wonder now if she planned a similar graphic for President Obama for the 2012 Presidential Election? Somehow I think decency, common sense, or fear of reprisal from the Secret Service and the general public would have prevailed. Unfortunate that it did not before, as the threat of political violence is real.

But all of this doesn’t mean Palin’s rhetoric or influence caused Loughner to go on his shooting spree. There are plenty who blame Sarah Palin. This says more about the blamers than Palin, or certainly the mind of Loughner. The key piece of evidence linking Palin to the crime is the graphic. But we have no reason to believe Loughner ever saw it, or was even a Palin or Tea Party supporter. He is a registered Independent, not a Republican. And anyway, there is evidence Loughner started stalking (or at least grew upset with) Giffords in 2007, long before any graphic was produced.

With no direct evidence, those opportunists with a pre-existing agenda cite a more amorphous responsibility, a general feeling and tension created by the Tea Party movement, that is violent and revolutionary. The FBI and DHS have warned of the rise in right wing violence – surely because Giffords was a Democrat (though a more conservative one), the attacker must have a right wing vendetta, fueled by Tea Party rhetoric.

But evidence is lacking here as well, and with no clear link, the argument is analogous to those that decry violent video games, rap music, and gratuitous action movies. They raise the overall acceptability of violence in our society. They glamorize it at least, and encourage it at worst. At the moment we have as much evidence that Lougher was influenced by Call of Duty: Black Ops as Sarah Palin. Does this shooting have more in common with political revolution or Columbine?

What little we know of his mind is confused and contradictory. His rants against the legitimacy of the US government point one direction, his choice of reading material (Communist Manifesto) and statements from associates point another. The majority of his YouTube videos discuss the currency of ideas, being awake and asleep, grammar, and the meaning of being a Terrorist. I find no commonality, and yet I hesitate to call him crazy. That is a label Americans throw around to describe violence they don’t understand, not a diagnosis. Plenty of horrible acts are committed by perfectly sane individuals – their motivations are simply different than ours, and capacity for violence is greater.

What voices was Loughner listening to in his head? A left wing blogger on the DailyKos (since removed a la Palin‘s dimwitted defense and dropping of her own graphic) said Giffords was “dead” to them because she didn’t vote for Nancy Pelosi. Did this mildly tasteless throw away line push Loughner over the edge? I doubt it. Sarah Palin has far more influence than the Daily Kos, but the voices Loughner listened to need not be the loudest nationally. Slate and Fox (among others) are reporting that the DHS has linked Loughner to an anti-semitic, anti-immigrant group, American Renaissance. I hadn’t ever heard of them, but that doesn’t mean Loughner hadn’t. This would mean Giffords’s sin was that she was Jewish, not that she was a Democrat. Of course, then again, that might be wrong too.

In the end, there is no need to speculate on why Loughner did it – he is alive. Someone will ask him at trial why he did it, and based on his previous MySpace and YouTube gabbiness, he will tell us. We can guess beforehand to score points and grind axes. Me, I’m going to wait for the facts.