I have studiously avoided any contact with television news at all over the course of the weekend, ever since the Friday shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabriella Giffords. I managed to Twitter something about it, but otherwise, I decided that this weekend might be a good one to sequester myself and my wife from the every-minute, every-second deluge of media coverage, social recrimination and political posturing that would surely follow.
Let us now trot out the relatives who have lost loved ones; those who knew the shooter; the anti-gun lobby; the pro-gun lobby; the mental health experts and the wounded mental health patients, defending themselves against attacks not meant for them. Let us trot out the defenders of all things politics; those inscrutable creatures, of whom the unholy alliance of Carville and Matlin is a sick parable of soulless, unblinking opportunism. And of course, let’s have the jaded “I told you so” attitudes of those who will not even honour the tragedy with the benefit of surprise.
It only just barely worked. You may have noticed.
So, lets address it: ever since the 2008 campaign, I have indeed been worried about the sort of mayhem that would be unleashed somewhere in the country as a result of the ever-increasing hate speech, race-baiting and paranoia-stoking that surrounded the McCain campaign. The speech and stoking includes both Sarah Palin’s kid-with-matches school of politicking and Senator McCain’s own prevaricating, opportunist dance with the craziest wing of his party. He is not and was not a better man for having simply retrieved the microphone from the one woman whom he could not have pretended not to have heard.
Is that white-hot rhetoric of two years ago responsible for the acts of this one kid from Arizona? Perhaps. But then what about the shooter’s history of mental illness? Apparently, he was scaring kids at his college before he started shooting. On balance, a history of mental illness leading directly to a shooting seems a more immediate cause than a two year-old campaign community or a year-old Palin poster with targets on it. Not to alienate those in my audience with history of mental illness: certainly, not everyone with problems is going to resort to violence.
And anyway: this is Arizona, where pictures of targets can hardly be a rare thing. The Congresswoman herself cites it as the home of the OK Corale with pride. They’ve managed to eliminate just about every ordinance regarding the carrying of weapons – including concealed weapons – throughout the state. So, maybe that’s the problem? Maybe guns are the pariah we’re looking for. Or concealed weapons at the very least. As a rather strong supporter of gun rights myself, I have to say that my own feelings are that responsible gun ownership does not generally extend to concealing them and walking around. Perhaps this is an opportunity to revisit the issue of gun control.
But I seem to be finding myself writing a very familiar post, now. Are we back on this, again? Guns. After the inconvenient and uncomfortable discussion of political discourse – we all hate it, but millions of dollars in media revenue is supported by it – after the uncomfortable discussion of mental illness, we settle on the issue which directly affects less than a quarter of us directly, guns.
I was blunt in my last post, some three years ago now, on the subject of how our grieving nation chooses to express itself. I will be more charitable here. Tragedy happens everywhere in the world and it happened here in America on Friday. Twelve people, not one, were shot; six are already dead. These are not the types of things we are meant to understand as rational human beings. When we attempt to explain what happened in political or social terms, what we’re really doing is screaming into that scariest of voids: the distance between us and the limits of our ability to understand what is in anyone else’s mind. Ever.
It may indeed have been the rhetoric: the open and violent imagery regularly egested by political operatives cannot be helpful. It may indeed have been prevented without legal access to so many guns: can’t shoot it if you don’t have it. It might have been prevented with better monitoring and treatment of mental illnesses or simply troubled youth. One thing can be said with absolute certainty: there will be more than ample time within our 24-hour, 365-day new cycle to discuss it at nauseating length on any other occasion but now.
For now, it would be best to do the honour to the victims and families of simply accepting the tragedy for the single horrible event that it is. Without judgment. Without weaving it into a narrative. Let tragedy be tragedy.