Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Sunday, January 09, 2011

The Roll-Giffords Shooting, Policy and Politics

The big story right now is the murder of a federal judge, John Roll, and the attempted murder of Representative Giffords (D-AZ) by a deranged young man (the police have him in custody and are currently seeking a possible accomplice) at a mall in Tuscon. A number of other people were also killed and wounded including a 9 year old girl. The Sheriff has publicly called out the right wing demagogues who whip up "prejudice and bigotry" and lamented that Arizona seems to have become the "capitol of it."

All of this is about to kick off a debate in this country about how responsible for right wing political violence are Republicans like Sarah Palin and others who are trying to ride the Tea Party to political power. Tea Partiers will say that this is the act of a lunatic and that it has no connection to politics at all. I agree that the man the police have arrested is probably mentally ill. But that does not mean that these murders are a-political or have no connection to the rhetoric and policies of the right.

The man may have been insane and murderously suicidal. But the nature of his murder/suicide is a product of right wing politics and policies. His choice of targets and the weapons he used (and therefore the number of victims) are the products of the politics of the American right.

There are murder/suicides occasionally in the United States. The overwhelming majority of them are obviously apolitical affairs in which somebody snaps and kills their family and then kills themselves. These kinds of events spike when the economy goes south. There have been a couple of incidents like this near where I live. They were well covered and there is no ambiguity at all about their nature. There is no mention of politics or anything that could even be called politics by a deranged mind. These are entirely personal tragedies.

The Roll-Giffords shooting is obviously different from that pattern. The perpetrator seems to be mentally ill and it may be that he was tackled before he could kill more people and then himself. It may also be the case that even if there were no political rhetoric for him to feed off of, he would have snapped and shot up his community college or his family or something. But the fact remains that the targets of this murderer had no connection to him at all. He chose them because of their political positions. Judge Roll had recently ruled in favor of an immigrant group in a lawsuit they had brought against the State of Arizona. Representative Giffords (D-AZ), like many Democrats, had been threatened since her vote for the health care reform bill. In the 2010 election her opponent held rallies around his firing automatic rifles with the headline for the event being "Get on Target for Victory in November. Help Remove Gabrielle Giffords from Office. Shoot a Fully Automatic M16 with Jesse Kelley." The shooter clearly chose to commit the crime he did because of politics. The atmosphere created by the right gave the shooter his inspiration for the how to manifest his mental illness. The shooter's web pages are full of references to secret government mind control projects and his desire to establish a new currency. These may seem nuts to most of us but these kinds of fantastic theories about economics combined with over the top paranoia about the government are relatively common among the tea party crowd.

There are attacks by mentally deranged killers in other modern societies as well. In some countries where gun control laws are stricter, these attacks take place with either knives or with firearms with low rates of fire. But in the US, the weapon of choice is often a semi- or fully automatic weapon. In the Roll-Giffords shooting, the shooter was using a semi-automatic 9mm handgun and shot 20 people before he was tackled while trying to reload. I imagine that we will hear that he had a high capacity clip in the thing and probably bought it all legally despite a long history of ringing alarms bells about his mental state (I just heard on CNN that he was rejected from the military for undisclosed reasons and has had "numerous" run ins with authorities while a student at the local community college).

So in my opinion this is a case of right wing chickens come home to roost. We have a lunatic who's particular victims, it is becoming increasingly apparent, were chosen after the shooter was inspired or egged on by the environment of right wing rhetoric. I'm also convinced that if there had been a years long drum beat by the left of violent rhetoric directed at Republicans and their allied institutions (say churches) and some lunatic with a website full of left wing inspired rhetoric murdered a right leaning federal judge and a Republican House rep there would be a hurricane like howl of condemnation of anyone to the left of Genghis Khan for their complicity in the violence. Hell, Sarah Palin accused Obama of being a terrorist or terrorist sympathizer because he once had coffee at a neighborhood association meeting with a former member of the Weather Underground.

UPDATE: I could also have pointed out that if this guy turns out to be a psychotic schizophrenic (which it looks like might come out), we owe his attack in part on the defunding of mental health provision that took place in the 80s. Since then, we've relied primarily on the prison system to treat the severely mentally ill - that means that people like this guy who are showing clear signs of being a danger to themselves and others are left on their own until they actually commit a violent crime.


USwest said...

The sad thing is that the far right, and their associated media outlets with shock jocks and extremists, have made so much money on the genera that I doubt they stop. They will claim that this is just liberals whining.

The Law Talking Guy said...

There is a strong right wing ideology that falsely says that the Second Amendment enshrines a right of violent resistance to tyrannical government. It was never intended to do anything of the kind, of course. It was meant to preserve the right of communities to police themselves and defend themselves from Injuns without a standing army. (there were no police in those days - only militias or armies). That ideology is what is responsible for this murder.

Raised By Republicans said...

You both are correct, I'm afraid. I once had an argument with a pro-gun self described "libertarian." He was one of those guys who caries a copy of the constitution in his pocket but who had never heard of the Federalist Papers. We had a computer handy so I brought up a searchable version of the Federalist Papers. We quickly found references to exactly the motive for the 2nd Amendment that LTG says was the motive for it: namely the need to defend the community against threats. It's worth noting also that gun ownership then was far less common than it is now. Guns were quite expensive things to own - so really it was about the top half of the income distribution (or people who owned little else besides their gun) owning guns to protect their part of the community. This person I was arguing with dismissed not only the first half of the 2nd Amendment (the part about militias) as irrelevant but also dismissed the Federalist Papers as "rejected drafts of the constitution" - he would not allow me to complete the sentence in which I was trying to explain to him the actual nature of the Federalist Papers.

BTW, this person is also fairly convinced that society as a whole is on the verge of collapse and only people like him who own guns will survive. A frightening world view to put it mildly.

Raised By Republicans said...

BTW (cont.): When I suggested his views had more in common with the far right than with any other type of ideology, he objected saying that considered himself a "libertarian" and to prove it he said he supported Obama's health car plan.

I suspect that this kind of ideological incoherence is fairly common among people who do not think much about their political views except when they directly involve their immediate well being or desires (i.e. for more guns and free health care).

USWest said...

Have you all heard Sarah Plain's line? Written in an e-mail to Glenn Beck:"I hate violence,I hate war. Our children will not have peace if politicos just capitalize on this to succeed in portraying anyone as inciting terror and violence."

There is your line. Get ready to hear that over and over again. How about "Gee, I made a mistake in putting this target thing on my website. I will take it down now and I apologize?" She and her ilk have no shame.

You know, RBR's tale reminds me yet again how little us Americans know how to have a discussion. We pay lip service to the idea, but we don't exercise it. When I am in Europe and we have political discussions, there is nothing personal and everyone enjoys the exchange of ideas. But in this country, we think we have to "convince" the other that we are right and they are wrong. We are smart, they are dumb. It becomes an ego trip where we elevate the rhetoric beyond reason.

We continue to foster intellectual laziness. When I encounter the "American Idol" set I am always surprised and reminded of what a little subculture I am a part of. With so little education, we are putting our society at risk. And we when we think that "Free Speech" means "Anything goes", we foster a public that thinks everything is just a joke, just entertainment.

The conservative media will not take any responsibility for what has happened. They will say that "he was just some crazy guy" without thinking about their role in inciting his disorder. Actually, they know their role, but deny it.

This, BTW: is why people like me have to work at remembering that American is not in decline (reference to RBR's previous thread). It isn't outside forces that will get to us, it's the shit inside.

Dr. Strangelove said...

On a practical note... Suppose the law required another adult to co-sign for one's gun purchase. I know folks would whine about it, but in all honesty it really wouldn't be that much of a burden for ordinary, law-abiding citizens. It should be pretty easy to find a friend or relative to accompany you to the store. You could go with a fellow gun club member and co-sign for each other if you like.

But with such a law, it would be considerably more difficult for a troubled loner to just go out and buy one at a local gun store. No rule is perfect of course, but I think something like this targets the right group of people and is worth considering.

Another idea, more technological, would be to embed RFID chips in guns. This way, without cordoning off an area and using metal detectors, you could just set up a radio post that would return a ping if a gun came within (say) 100 feet. Again, there are concerns with that--and obviously the millions of guns already out there would not be covered--but it would allow someone to have a measure of confidence that a gun ban was being observed. The simple act of concealing the weapon in one's handbag or trousers would no longer be effective for new weapons purchased at the local sportsmart. This also would have made Mr. Loughner's rampage more difficult, because an alarm would have gone off when he approached with his gun.

Anyway, I think some creativity in gun purchase requirements, and some additional technology for revealing the presence of guns, might be well worth considering in order to prevent this particular type of senseless crime. I have a feeling that regulations like this would make more effective policy than simple prohibition.

Raised By Republicans said...

I would have thought that the kinds of background checks and waiting periods required in many states (but not in Arizona apparently) would suffice to keep the Loughners of the world from getting guns.

I kind of like the "ping" idea but I doubt voters who already approve of concealed weapons for nearly everyone would agree to having their weapons "pinged" upon entering some public space. It would be kind of scary though to be standing in line at the grocery store listening to the gun detector pinging away every few minutes.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Loughner had no criminal record. (Turns out he had once been arrested for drug use, but the charge had been expunged because he completed the appropriate rehab-type program.) Unfortunately, background checks just don't catch people like that. So I think it's worth thinking about other simple measures.

As for the ping idea... You're right of course that the staunchest gun advocates will object. But even in Arizona, lawmakers agree that it is OK to ban guns at certain events, and that a shopkeeper (for example) may prohibit guns on his private property. A detection system simply allow the shopkeeper and police to enforce those rules. So I think you can make a decent argument for it. Or something like it... Some way other than a cumbersome metal detector in which a legally manufactured and purchased gun could be detected at a distance.

Raised By Republicans said...

Actually, in some states back ground checks do pick up on the kinds of reports Loughner had on his record - especially from his community college. I know that there was a recent case of a suicide near where I live where the man was fired from his job for sexual/ethical misconduct. When he tried to buy a hand gun he was refused following a background check by the local sheriff. He was able to buy a bolt action hunting rifle which does not require a background check in this state and he killed himself with that.

Raised By Republicans said...

Just to clarify, the man in question had no criminal history (indeed, he would normally be considered a pillar of the community). The sheriff stated in the press release after the man's body was found that the hand gun purchase had been prevented because of the sheriff's policy of checking with current or most recent employers/schools.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Good to know that some states cast a wider net. Maybe in analogy to the national "no fly" list, we need a "no gun" list...

Raised By Republicans said...

I guess I agree with you that there are some interesting ways to control access to weapons - especially those with high rates of fire and ammunition capacity - that we have not tried yet. I'd welcome any serious attempt by policy makers to restore some sense of reason to our gun laws.

My view though is that we already know the kinds of policies that work - it's just that many jurisdictions chose not to enact those policies.

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