Sunday, January 29, 2012

In Vain

Back before Republicans were Republicans, a Republican president stood at a battlefield in Pennsylvania and stated

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.

In an unincorporated area outside of Tucson, Arizona in January, 2011 six people were killed and 23 individuals injured, apparently by one Jared Lee Loughner.             Critically injured, Representative Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) survived but last week announced her retirement from congress.

No verdict is anywhere in sight for Loughner, who faces a hearing in four months to be determined whether he has become mentally competent and hence able to stand trial.          But the verdict is in on the the results of the shooting: the dead have in fact died in vain.

In the justified celebration over Giffords' improvement and spectacular recovery from a horrific activity, noting that the dead have died in vain is almost as popular as was Bill Maher's statement, in the wake of the September, 2011 terrorist attacks, that the Muslim terrorists were not "cowardly."       Maher was right, of course; the perpetrators were evil but, expecting to die in their abhorrent act, were not cowardly.

Commonly, we try to make sense and to find good in the death of individuals, especially if it comes in the course of a vicious crime.      It is some consolation to the living, especially to the friends and loved ones of the deceased.

But just as the stakes were sufficiently high for Abraham Lincoln to to urge that the dead of the Civil War should not be in vain, so it is that the consequences of that January day in Arizona be seen clearly.       Last Wednesday, Pia Carusone, Chief of Staff to Giffords, told Chris Matthews on Hardball

It was determined it seems that the gentleman was, you know, really mentally ill.    And it had nothing to do with it being in Arizona or it being a difficult part of the country politically.    It wasn't that.    It could be in anyone's community.

We don't know whether the shooting had anything to do with the politics of the southwest.     And Lougner's elevator probably didn't reach the top, though, contrary to Carusone's suggestion, he has been found not mentally ill but not presently competent to stand trial.

But that is of minor significance compared to Carusone's assertion "it had nothing to do with it being in Arizona."       Because it likely had a great deal to do with "being in Arizona."      Shortly after the shooting, we read in the Arizona Republic

One thing lawmakers could do is ban high-capacity magazines like the 33-round type apparently used in the Tucson shooting, said Robyn Thomas, executive director of the Legal Community Against Violence, a San Francisco group dedicated to preventing gun violence.

"That created a huge part of the problem in and of itself," she said. The shooters in the Columbine, Fort Hood and Virginia Tech massacres used these types of magazines, Thomas said.

Magazines holding more than 10 rounds were banned under the 1994 assault-weapons ban that expired in 2004. Even during the ban, existing high-capacity magazines were still permitted for sale.

"It's not to say that would have stopped him, but it might saved lives had he not been able to discharge so many bullets so quickly without even having to stop for a moment," she said.

Arizona is not the only state which has failed to enact its own restrictions on high-capacity magazines.     But some states have, and Arizona is one of only three states to allow citizens 21 years and older to carry a concealed weapon without a permit.       (The other two are the extremely rural states of Alaska and Vermont.)

Barack Obama, elected on a slogan of "change we can believe in," gave a well-received speech following the crime in which he claimed

Already we've seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health systems. Much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized - at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do - it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

When leadership was called for, the President cowered.      The murders had little to do with guns or the murderer- it was because we say mean things to each other.      The response was so inadequate as to be reprehensible.     On the positive side, however, Obama was no doubt pleased that it enabled the mainstream media to claim that both sides poison the political environment.      And to keep the NRA off his back.

Last Tuesday, President Obama gave his third State of the Union message.       A partial list of the broad range of topics would include:      manufacturing employment; the financial sector; China; Iraq; secondary and higher education and vocational training; immigration; energy; infrastructure repair; governmental regulation; earned benefits; tax reform; Osama bin Laden; Muammar Qaddafi.         After a year to think about it, and on an occasion which featured the triumphant return to Capitol Hill and the hurrah of Representative Giffords, President Obama said the following about gun violence:

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