Dangerous Absurdities: Vital Lessons From The Shooting Of Congresswoman Giffords

by Jesse Wolf Hardin on January 11th, 2011
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Dangerous Absurdities:

Vital Lessons From The Shooting Of Congresswoman Giffords

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

There is little that is more shallow, unreasoned, shrill and tacky, and dangerous to our very freedoms than the exploitation of tragic events to push an agenda… as in the case of the rhetoric and grandstanding behind the recent shooting of Congresswoman Gifford in Arizona.  Nor is it helpful for either side of the ensuing debates, to be in denial about the reality of this event and its ramifications for all of us.  The most vital thing at stake here, is not the security of our elected officials, important as that could be, but the constitutional liberties Americans have proven willing to give up in a hopeless quest for “safety”.  I am deeply grieved at the shooting of a Representative doing the essential democratic work of meeting face to face with her constituents, and even far more so at the killing of innocent bystanders including a child full of possibility and hope.  But like the father of that murdered 9 year old little girl, I am appalled at the deaths being used to justify even more government control over our ever more restricted and manipulated lives, a fact that is easily lost among the absurd pronouncements from conservatives as well as liberals.

Dangerous Absurdity #1:  “The shooting is the fault of right wing politicians and talk show hosts with their angry polemics and heated tone.”  Bull-pucky!  All people throughout the ages have been subjected to the vitriol of others, some of whom are inflamed to take action, and some are turned off and moved to do the opposite of whatever the talking heads of the times exhorted them to do.  The ultimate responsibility in every case, is on the person doing the act, not on the persons mouthing the rhetoric.  If you disagree, picture a world where you not only aren’t allowed to incite resistance, but where your every statement can be parsed so as to hold you liable for what others might do with your expressed feelings or information.  By blaming the messengers, no matter how influential or even seedy they might be, we indict speech itself… and our own remnant right to speak out.

Dangerous Absurdity #2:  “Rhetoric and politics had nothing to do with the shooting, it was just the work of a deranged individual.  It was a target of opportunity, if he hadn’t shot a liberal he might have attacked a conservative leader instead.”  It sounds ridiculous to label the shooting random given what we’ve read so far of the shooter’s anti-federalist opinions and writings, and what we know of the Democratic Congresswoman’s beliefs and votes in the House… nor is it particularly relevant.  He is responsible for the act, no matter what his motivations.

Dangerous Absurdity #3:  “If high capacity magazines were illegal, or if there were more extensive background searches required for firearm purchases, or if guns were banned altogether, this horrible shooting wouldn’t have happened.”  If the attacker hadn’t had an extended, high capacity magazine (ammunition clip) for his pistol, he could have done as well with quick reloads from additional, low capacity magazines, or simply carried multiple firearms such as the Columbine School shooters did and not be breaking any imagined ban on such accessories.  If barred from purchasing his Glock pistol legally, he could have done what criminals do even in countries with the most strict gun prohibition laws, which is to simply steal them, or purchase them from other lawbreakers or disgruntled and opportunistic members of the military and police.  Minus a gun, he could have done the same amount of damage in almost the same amount of time with a samurai sword and a good martial teacher.  Which brings to mind one news commentator that I heard in the days following the attack, who called in a trembling voice for “civilized” laws that ensure only people who have the proper amount of training can carry a gun, without considering how much more deadly the shooter would have been with professional gun instruction, beginning with possibly choosing a larger caliber weapon with better expanding bullets.  On the other hand, if even a single person in the mostly liberal crowd had been carrying and trained in the use of a handgun, it’s possible that she or he could have neutralized the threat quicker.  Note that the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was intended to ensure that weapons and hence power would not become the exclusive privilege of the government, as its framers knew there is more to fear from established authority than from civil strife.

Dangerous Absurdity #4:  “The shooter was mentally and emotionally unstable, which we as a society have a responsibility to provide care for.”  Unstable he clearly is, but that doesn’t make us all guilty for not having identified and treated his problems.  There is no indication that he would have sought or even accepted mental health help.  And at his age, no parent or school official can easily force him into treatment or commitment… just as it should be!  As it is, convenient psychiatric diagnosis is all too often used to discredit activists, rebels and revolutionaries, and to keep some in confinement long after their criminal sentences have been served.  Imagine a world where the authorities routinely decide who is normal (acquiescent and productive) and who is aberrant (“a danger to themselves or others”).

The real lessons of this event are that: 1. There are and will always be individuals – whether emotionally troubled or scarily normal – who act out by hurting others.  2. No amount of laws can make people safe, and the desperate desire for safety makes us susceptible to being lied to and controlled.  3. The best we can do is to be alert, aware, and responsive at all times (such as were both the folks who tackled the shooter, and the intern who rushed in to perform first aid).  4. The government and special interests that influence it, will use any pretext or provocation to increase their control over we citizens, playing on our fears most of all.  5.  Whether self described conservatives or liberals, we people tend to be so attached to our preferred dogma, that we often make ourselves look foolish and undermine our own arguments and agenda.

The shooting of the Congresswoman and so many others, is fuel for the increased polarization of the American people.  I suggest we stop playing the part of indignant conservatives and indignant liberals long enough to ask ourselves “Whom does this discord and fear benefit?”  The answer is the financial elite that capitalizes on our fears to instigate more legislation and accumulate more privilege and power, people whose only real political platform is self enrichment, people who have bankrolled every U.S. president whether Republican or Democrat.  They like to keep the herd fighting amongst themselves, while they run off with the cream.

Categories: Jesse Wolf Hardin – Essays & Tales

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