Bullets aren’t ideological

Why do these things keep happening?

Whenever there is a loss of life caused by guns in the United States, people from all sides of the ideological spectrum ask questions approximating that one: “Why do these terrible tragedies happen?” And, just as inevitably, some people – on both the left and the right – start to assign blame, and well before all the facts are in.

It happened again this past week, when Arizona Democrat Gabrielle Giffords was targeted in an assassination attempt allegedly by Jared Lee Loughner.

Miraculously, Giffords survived. But six other people – including a federal court judge, a Giffords aide, and a Grade 3 student – were gunned down like animals.

Within minutes, the conspiracy theorists got to work.

On Facebook and Twitter – social media generally favoured by those on the left – there were immediate (and unsubstantiated) claims Loughner was a Tea Party enthusiast. Giffords is a supporter of U.S. President Barack Obama’s health-care reforms, they observed, and likely targeted because of that.

The shooter strenuously opposed abortion, some noted, and the American currency system. He had been linked to an anti-Semitic organization.

He posted that Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf was one of his favourite books.

And so on.

On blogs and talk radio – the media generally preferred by many on the right – there were instantaneous (and equally unsubstantiated) suggestions Loughner was a left-wing lunatic. He had met Giffords in 2007, they recalled, and he remarked to a classmate she was “stupid and unintelligent.” He couldn’t get into the U.S. military allegedly because he was a dope fiend, and had failed a mandatory drug test. He detested organized religion, conservatives noted ominously. Over and over, they triumphantly cited the words of one of his classmates, who said Loughner was “left wing and quite liberal.” He posted that The Communist Manifesto was one of his favourite books.

And so on.

Personally, when it comes to cause and effect, I think I will await the judgment of a court – and Congresswoman Giffords herself. If she ever regains consciousness, I suspect Giffords will be of the view the bullet that travelled through her brain – and which thankfully did not kill her – did not feel particularly ideological.

It was just a bullet fired from the gun of sick young man. I can see her, or someone close to her, saying that.

And, truly, I can also see Giffords saying what she had said before – that Sarah Palin’s decision to circulate an anti-Giffords poster, with rifle crosshairs aiming at her Arizona constituency – was a very bad decision. As Giffords prophetically told MSNBC at the time: “When people do that, they’ve got to realize there are consequences to that action.” We’ll likely never know if Jared Loughner ever laid eyes on that despicable Palin poster. But I tend to agree with Giffords, she being the victim:

Hateful word often precedes hateful deed. History tells us that, too.

Why do these things happen? Because, in some ways, America’s heart is sick, too. Because – unlike up here – Americans make guns far more available than they should. And they make guns more readily available to sick young men such as Loughner.

That, mostly, is why these things keep happening.

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