Tucson, Arizona, Saturday, January 8, 2011—It has happened again. A deranged young man apparently upset with the political views of his representative in Congress, Gabrielle Giffords, shot and seriously wounded her. Others were killed and wounded. Anyone who has listened to the radio, watched TV or read a newspaper already knows these preliminary facts. The “usual” responses by friends, associates and commentators are flooding the communications environment.
I should be angry. I am far beyond anger. I am in despair. I am NOT surprised that this happened, and I don’t believe most of you are either. Given the incredible lack of sensitivity in the rhetoric to which we are now exposed minute by minute and the disregard for the potential consequences of our words, how could we not expect that such a tragedy would happen? It has happened before too many times.
When you have such prominent persons as Sarah Palin “tweeting” with images of the crosshairs of a gun sight placed over the locations of politicians whose positions she disagrees with, you are suggesting an action of violence, whether intended or not. When you have a candidate for the U.S. Senate suggest that “Second Amendment remedies” may be needed if certain politicians do not do as they are told to do, again, violence is the “subtle” suggestion.
When this tragedy was broadcast one of the first things I thought about was an essay I wrote in April of 2009 at the tenth anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings. The article, “High Noon At the OK Corral,” took issue with the notion that guns had become the tools for dealing with our anger toward persons, policies or actions we did not like. (The gunfight took place in Tombstone, AZ.) It was of interest to me that the article alerted government sites that apparently track potential terrorist activity. Our government knows there is a high level of anxiety and anger brewing in our population.
In an interview, one Arizona Senator said it was “incomprehensible” that such action could happen. It is my strong opinion that it is NOT incomprehensible that people will do stupid things if they are constantly urged to bear arms, rail against people with whom they disagree and ultimately shoot and kill them! Why are we surprised? There are many things we can point to as the causes and all of them contribute some part of whole picture. In the final analysis, for me, the problem is that we have utterly lost our ability to respect the differences of opinion that exist. We have become so used to immediate awareness of conditions—via the Internet, TV, and radio—that we also expect immediate resolutions. And we expect those resolutions to be according to our priorities. Good heavens! Are we such spoiled children that we have to have our way about everything? Is there no room for considering the value of the contributions of others?
What is said by talk show hosts, news networks and demi-gods who present themselves as all-knowing prophets, leads to consequences for which few of them will think they have any responsibility. It should be abundantly clear by now that the constant, bitter rhetoric is giving some individuals approval to do stupid, harmful things.
Words have consequences!