The vitriol-filled right is busily trying to refute its role in creating the environment in which Jared Loughner carried out his horrendous attack on Saturday when Representative Gabrielle Giffords was holding a “Congress on Your Corner” meeting at a Tucson Safeway. While much of the walk-back by hate radio and hate politicians is in response to Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik’s condemnation of Arizona as “the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry”, another aspect of Dupnik’s experience-based comments deserves equal attention. At the same news conference, Dupnik “criticize[d] the Arizona Legislature for pushing to allow weapons pretty much everywhere.” He then went so far as to say “[Tucson] is the tombstone of the United States of America.” That is an incredibly important point that should not be overlooked as the country looks to move on from this tragedy. Just as we need to dial back the hate in our social and political discourse, we also need to change the atmosphere which has idolized guns to the point that they are actively encouraged in state legislative buildings and where automatic weapons are given away with the purchase of a truck.
The Tombstone reference by Sheriff Dupnik (and especially having it picked up on the website of a television station with the call letters KGUN) describes the situation very well. Here’s a brief description of the most famous part of the history of Tombstone, Arizona:
The most famous event in Tombstone’s history was the famed Gunfight at the OK Corral, which didn’t actually happen at the corral, but in a vacant lot on Fremont Street. On October 26, 1881, members of the “Cowboys” had a run-in with Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp with help from Wyatt’s friend Doc Holliday. 24 seconds and 30 shots later, Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury were mortally wounded. In many peoples opinion, it was this one event that has kept Tombstone alive for all these years.
How sad is it that America’s love affair with guns has kept the site of the famed Gunfight at the OK Corral commercially successful for nearly 130 years? Sadly, it appears that even the number of shots fired in the attack on Giffords and others in Tucson was the same as that fateful day in Tombstone, further strengthening Dupnik’s comparison.
Much of the blame for ginning up a pathological combination of guns with politics lies at the feet of the National Rifle Association. A randomly chosen example of the way this organization has infused political discourse with violent reliance on incredibly destructive weapons comes in this May, 2009 article in Roll Call:
And the NRA has been on the attack.
“We do whatever is necessary to win,” said Andrew Arulanandam, NRA’s director of public affairs. “We are proactively pushing a number of measures.”
So far, the NRA has hit many of its targets.
On Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill that would rein in credit card interest fees along with a Republican-sponsored amendment permitting concealed weapons in national parks. Another pro-gun measure has entangled a D.C. voting rights bill, proof that Democrats aren’t keen on voting against the gun lobby.
Note that even the “journalist” writing the Roll Call article invokes the imagery of the NRA being “on the attack” and that it “hit many of its targets”. But also note especially that the coupling of this violent rhetoric with very large amounts of money fed to both political parties has created the environment where “Democrats aren’t keen on voting against the gun lobby”. That is how we have arrived at the sick environment where even a “Democrat” campaigning for the Senate feels obligated to use a gun in one of his ads.
Of course, Manchin’s ad pales in comparison to real right-wingers when it comes to guns. Consider Grady Warren, a “sportsman” affiliated with the Tea Party movement in Jacksonville, Florida. If you can stomach it, watch Warren’s video reproduced on the upper right on this site (YouTube pulled it down because it is so offensive) where Warren tries to hide behind his claim to be “peaceful, but prepared” (check out his t-shirts with that slogan and lots of guns) but gets so worked up about non-white “illegal aliens” that he informs us that “either the government steps up, or the government will have to clean up”. Since this comes shortly after his claim to “sportsman” status (code for gun-toting, he also of course worked in the right to keep and bear arms), there is little doubt about why there will be the need to clean up. In another strange coincidence, note how Warren also rails against illiteracy, just as Loughner does in his disturbed videos.
Grady Warren epitomizes why it is not just hate speech alone which created the atmosphere for Loughner’s attack and guarantees that there will be others like it to follow. It is the coupling of this violent hate for all non-whites with the gun culture that is so dangerous. The NRA and similar “sportsmen” oriented groups have fostered an elevation of guns to the forefront of political discourse, so that campaigns like Joe Miller’s rely on parades of people packing automatic weapons and similar weapons show up at other political events. Note also that the NRA’s relentless campaign to allow the automatic weapons ban to expire is behind Loughner being able to use such a large magazine of bullets in his attack.
Our country is headed down an extremely violent course, and I fear that Jared Loughner is merely the tip of the iceberg. How many more disturbed individuals will see his action as a call to arms amid a society that is permeated by the hate speech that specifically invokes gun images and language?
I leave you to contemplate a portion of the lyrics from the Lynyrd Skynryd video above:
Well hand guns are made for killin’
They ain’t no good for nothin’ else
And if you like to drink your whiskey
You might even shoot yourself
So why don’t we dump ‘em people
To the bottom of the sea
Before some ole fool come around here
Wanna shoot either you or me
Mr.Saturday night special
Got a barrel that’s blue and cold
Ain’t no good for nothin’
But put a man six feet in a hole