Washington, DC – Shortly after 10:00 am MST on Saturday, January 8, an apparently unstable young man goes on a murderous rampage at a grocery store in Tucson, AZ. A federal judge and five others are murdered in cold blood. Thirteen others – including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords – are seriously injured. Those are the cold, hard facts.
It’s a serious story. It begs the inevitable question: “How could this happen?” But instead of a dispassionate examination of the details, within minutes of the event, members of the mainstream media, politicians and pundits began twisting the atrocity in Tucson. In the days since, exploitation of this tragedy has become a national pastime.
Understandably in this era of “instant news” – some of the first reports were simply wrong. We were initially told that Congresswoman Giffords had been “assassinated.” And less than an hour later, the real spin began.
While victims were still being triaged by trauma teams at the University of Arizona Medical Center, we were “informed” that the killer was a “Tea Party activist” motivated to violence by “extremist rightwing rhetoric.” Breathless reporters “notified” us that an accomplice or co-conspirator was being sought and Arizona State Senator Linda Lopez posited that “the shooter is likely, from what I’ve heard, an Afghan veteran.”
A day after the tragedy in Tucson, when we knew little more than the name of the accused perpetrator, an editorial in the New York Times claimed “…it is legitimate to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced the vast majority of these threats, setting the nation on edge.” Pima County, AZ Sheriff Clarence Dupnik went even further, claiming, “The kind of rhetoric that flows from people like Rush Limbaugh” was to blame because it “angers” people “against government, angers them against elected officials…” This sentiment was echoed by liberal pundits and columnists who indicted Sarah Palin, Republicans and conservative radio and television personalities of “fomenting the attack” and “opposing common sense gun control laws” that exacerbated the carnage.
It turns out, none of this is true. We now know Jared Lee Loughner, the accused killer, apparently acted alone; there is no evidence he was influenced by “rightwing rhetoric;” and that among his favorite readings is the Communist Manifesto – hardly a conservative screed. We’re now aware the accused killer was not a veteran – he was turned away by military recruiters when he tried to enlist in the Army – and that while enrolled at Pima Community College, Mr. Loughner exhibited evidence of “bizarre behavior” and drug abuse.
Though investigators have yet to discern all the facts surrounding last Saturday’s assault, others continue to exploit the terrible incident for their own political purposes. Some have already discovered a solution to “the problem:” abridge the 1st and 2nd Amendments of our Constitution.
Pennsylvania Congressman Robert Brady wants to introduce a bill making it a federal crime to “use language or symbols that could be perceived as threatening or inciting violence against a federal official or member of Congress.” Which government entity would determine what is or is not “perceived as threatening” is as yet unknown.
New York Representative Carolyn McCarthy, long an advocate for stringent “gun control measures,” observes that the Tucson shooter “legally purchased the gun he used” and now says she wants new legislation to restrict access to certain types of firearms, ammunition, and “clips” (apparently she means magazines) as “unnecessary to the general public.” Sheriff Dupnik now acknowledges there were “several incidents” with the alleged gunman “to the point where law enforcement at Pima College got involved and they decided to expel him.” Yet, no official has yet explained why these events were not pursued to the point where they would warrant entries in the FBI’s “Instant Check” criminal database. That alone would have precluded any gun store from selling Mr. Loughner the weapon he used in last Saturday’s attack.
Thankfully, new legislation to abbreviate our Bill of Rights will be debated and voted on in calmer moments – not in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy in Tucson. That of course did not preclude the president from seizing the moment.
On Wednesday, Mr. Obama quite appropriately flew to Tucson, visited the victims of the outrage and their families and spent time in the hospital room with severely wounded Rep. “Gabby” Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly. The president then addressed a moving memorial service. In lengthy prepared remarks – interrupted no less than 50 times by applause some consider surreal in a prayer service – Mr. Obama announced “right after we went to visit, a few minutes after we left her room and some of her colleagues in congress were in the room, Gabby opened her eyes for the first time.”
Afterward, an on-scene correspondent said it was as though the president had become “Reporter-in-Chief.” Thus far, no one has yet described Mr. Obama as “Healer-in-Chief.” Perhaps that title is being saved for next week’s State of the Union address. That would be a travesty.