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On Denial

Posted in Editorials on January 11th, 2011
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One thing that has been on my mind in the wake of the horrific shooting in Arizona on Saturday is the depth of the denial that exists left, right and center in the United States on the amount of violent and eliminationist rhetoric that is spouted every day. It’s not politicizing the tragedy to talk about this, a federal judge and a Congresswoman were shot at a political event. Assassinations and attempted assassinations are inherently political.

Loughner may be mentally ill or he may not be. That is irrelevant when you consider the scope not only of the violence that has been perpetrated, but the scope of the threatening rants and vile hatred that are broadcast, not just on the internet, or radio or television – but by official candidates for Senate and other offices in the Republican party. One of the ideas that seems to be recurring lately is that any individual can soak up toxic ideas in the culture around him or her and they can manifest themselves in surprising and unpredictable ways. This is true.

To call for “both sides” to tone it down is meaningless. On the left, there is no talk of “second amendment remedies” for “domestic enemies in Congress.” No one dares suggest that “if ballots don’t work bullets will.” There have been no calls to “gather your armies” or “break their windows” (with subsequent broken windows, cut gas lines and threatening phone calls). Howard Dean, Bill Richardson or Kirsten Gillibrand – all Democrats who are also strong 2nd Amendment supporters have never ever held fundraisers where people shoot M-16′s to signal their enthusiasm.

A conservative acquaintance brought up the example of Congressman Manchin shooting a copy of the cap and trade bill in a commercial. But to me that proves my point. He was outdoors, with a rifle that looks more appropriate for hunting deer than armed insurrection, (Newt Gingrich however has said that the 2nd amendment is not for those tree hugging hunters-it’s for shooting the gubbermint) and Manchin wasn’t shooting Waxman and Markey – the people who introduced the bill – or any facsimile of their faces or bodies. He was destroying the actual piece of paper their ideas were on that he disagreed with.

In fact our leaders on the left take pride America for being a peaceful country. Nancy Pelosi pointed out how amazing a non-violent transfer of power was when she passed the gavel to John Boehner. Contrast this with the American Family Association claiming that we have sullied the Medal of Honor in recent years by giving it more often to service members who save lives than those who kill on the battlefield.

For anyone still insisting that somehow liberals are as violent as conservatives, how would you explain why Barack Obama has received an unprecedented number of death threats? George W Bush was thoroughly reviled on the left. Liberals broke Godwin’s Law every day. Any yet, there were no records broken with regards to actual violence.

I like Amanda Marcotte’s post about how pointing this out is hard to do, even when you know it’s important. She compares it to putting a cat in their carrier. But it must be done. If no one is calling out rhetoric that incites violence, people can go about their lives ignoring it. And when tragedy strikes, we think “oh that’s terrible” and then after a day or two we continue about our lives until the next time it happens. We must analyze these events together and alongside the causes. If no one is telling specific individuals that they need to take responsibility for what they say, their intensity and vitriol will grow – as will the number of people who take those messages to a twisted conclusion.

3 Responses to “On Denial”

  1. Steve Bowen Says:

    It amazes me that everyone is avoiding the “WTF is a deranged 22 year old doing with a gun in the first place?” question. I know I’m a sheltered Brit where only competition shooters the police and some farmers have firearms licences. But here when some crazy does go on a killing spree the first thing we ask is why did he have a gun and how do we stop more people getting guns and can we just throw everyone’s guns in the Channel now and play nice. But in America it’s your right to have the means to blow each other to bits, yet you never seem to question it when someone actually does it.

  2. MissCherryPi Says:

    Steve – here’s a quick primer on the history of gun control politics in the US. Because our discourse lacks nuance, it’s difficult for people to talk about gun control without being dismissed as someone who wants to take away a fundamental right guaranteed by our Constitution. I believe that the US Supreme Court has also played a role by not defining what the 2nd Amendment really means. They have said Americans have a right to “all bearable arms.” I have not been able to find a legal scholar who can give a real definition of what that means. Probably handguns. What about rocket propelled grenades? Shoulder missile launchers? Suitcase nuclear weapons?

    In the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence link above, you can find the story of a man in Pittsburgh who killed 3 police officers because

    ““the Obama gun ban that’s on its way” and he “didn’t like our rights being infringed upon.” Poplawski carried out the shooting because “if anyone tried to take his firearms, he was gonna’ stand by what his forefathers told him to do.”

    I think many people who favor stronger gun control laws are justifiably afraid of these types of reactions, and it’s widely acknowledged that that’s a feature not a bug of the Second Amendment. It’s evident again this week in Arizona, where sales of the gun Loughner used in his murderous rampage have skyrocketed. People want the same gun that is capable of doing so much damage – in part probably because they are afraid of more attacks from people like him and also because they fear his crime will cause stricter gun laws. But I would not rule out more nefarious intents.

  3. Steve Bowen Says:

    This is one of the downsides of having a written constitution. After a century or so it becomes quasi scriptural, and like scripture time and events overtake its relevance.
    Incidentally I think Obama’s speech at the memorial service was very well nuanced. It could have done without the biblical references but I suppose that was inevitable.

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