First and foremost, I've had quite enough of my society living in perpetual fear that some mentally or emotionally unstable individual is going to pick up guns and start shooting up a place. Every time this happens, several someones admit to being worried their acquaintance would snap at some future point and do harm to others. Every time.
And yet most of the time those several someones powerlessly continue with their day, often making uncomfortable jokes about the situation in order to defuse the nerves or tension they feel. Or tell friends about it. On occasion, someone tells an "authority" figure, such as a teacher or administrator or boss. Sometimes they do something, sometimes they don't. Sometimes they just don't know what to do about it. Eventually you come to the point where there is no preventative next step.
Most of the time, the next step is just to restart the cycle, and the troubled individual becomes more marginalized by society, and they live out their days surrounded by their own troubles, physically hurting no one but emotionally trying for themselves or their family members or friends who try to figure it out.
But sometimes, that next step shows up as "Breaking News." Columbine. Virginia Tech. Fort Hood. The Bad Part of Anywhere, USA. Austin, Texas. And now, Tuscon, Arizona.
What the hell can we do about this? I'm not smart enough to say. I know that the current state of our nation's mental health infrastructure isn't what it should be. I know that our society is not currently set up in a way that culturally promotes mental health or even peaceful resolution of conflict, for that matter. I know we stigmatize the wrong things, and our society is uncomfortable talking about mental health in mature ways. I also know that our society does not have adequate means of addressing mental health issues, once they have been identified.
Hell, even labeling the shooter "mentally ill" could be a cop-out, pure speculation, based on our current view of the situaion.
Let me be the one to say that this kind of tragedy happens too often in the United States. Let me also say that we don't hear about it most of the time. When we do, they are only high profile events. We've gotten so used to this, it takes either deaths in the double digits or the shooting of a sitting member of Congress for it to stay in the news cycle for more than two days.
Second of all, instead of talking about that, we're going to talk about the politics. If the perpetrator was a Muslim, it was terrorism. If the perpetrator was white, maybe it wasn't terrorism. If it was a black-on-black crime, we don't even hear about it.
There is always a push to fit things in everyone's preferred larger narrative. If you are left-wing, this guy in Tuscon shot the place up because Sarah Palin uses firey and violent political rhetoric and this sort of thing has been expected for a long time. If you're right-wing, and enjoy the violent political rhetoric, this guy is absolutely a left-winger. We're not even entertaining the fantasy that there is some legally presumed innocence here, because we're too busy preemptively ignoring any facts that may arise to challenge our preconcieved worldviews.
We don't even wait for the facts or the investigations to make up our minds anymore, we just fill in the blanks ourselves and never let our opinion move from that spot. If you think political rhetoric was violent and abusive before, this tragedy has done nothing to quell that, and has, in fact, only increased the vitriol. Because what we need now is to elevate this shooter to Gavrilo Princip status in a society already bought into the competing "Democrats are Destroying America" vs. "the Tea Party Will Kill Us All." That will calm things down, for sure.
Don't you see it? Tell me, how much have you read about Gabrielle Giffords outside her family particulars and finger movements, and how much have you read about the percieved political motivations of her would-be killer? How much have you read about the three 70+ year olds also gunned down while waiting in line to speak with their Congresswoman?
Third, the guns. Guns don't kill people, people kill people. Guns make it much easier for people to kill people. So do knives. So do automobiles. But because people have proven their intentions to kill other people with such gusto, regardless of armament, the defensive capability of owning guns is as unassailable as the capability of owning an automobile. Should we be more dilligent with background checks? Yeah, probably.
Fourth, the violent political rhetoric. Oh, you thought I was going to let the Palins, Limbaughs, Hannities and Becks of the world off too easy didja? Sorry.
It is still too early to determine whether this particular case has anything to do with the violent political rhetoric of the mainstream right-wing. That doesn't mean such rhetoric isn't a problem and shouldn't be called out for what it is.
Sarah Palin used a bullseye to target political adversaries. You can try an argue that point away all you want, but go play Goldeneye for four minutes. Or pick up any hunting-focused magazine. Don't try to tell me the universal symbol of crosshairs is suddenly something different from what it has always been. Don't try to tell me that the imagery was accidental as her statement that Republicans don't "retreat, they reload." That may work on folks who believe the bullshit Glenn Beck tries to sell as history, but it doesn't work on those of us who actually live in reality.
You want to get political candidates voted out of office without violent imagery? Use a different universally recognized symbol that says "don't do this."
I am a Democratic voter, and a member of the Democratic Party. Neither I, nor any Democratic Party member I know, nor any Democratic Party candidate I have ever voted for, is trying to "destroy America." Regardless of what Rush Limbaugh says on his show every damn day.
And when Republican Senate candidate Sharon Angle talks about "2nd Amendment Remedies," she is advocating armed insurrection against a legally elected United States government. At the time of her statement, the "Congress" she described was politically Democratic. I can only take her at her words that Democratic individuals are the purveyors of tyranny, and subject to 2nd Amendment remedies. As a Democratic voter and Party member, who helped elect that Congress, I wonder if those remedies extend to me and mine or if she just expects individuals like me to let it happen? I don't know what other way to interpret those clearly stated words.
But they are their own words, and they must take responsibility for them. They are not the words of honestly held policy positions, rationally discussing policy change with mild political rivals whom they respect and understand as holding, honestly held opposing positions. No, those words are full of killing and revolution metaphors, describing opponents in terms usually reserved for the monsters of history.
That's not a calm, collected way of talking when anyone does it. And before you go all false-equivalency on me and say "But Pat, Democrats do it, too!" because some Dem also-ran in the suburb of some Northern state wants to try and rile his base up using nonsense. There may be some Dems who do this, there may be many liberal bloggers, and it ain't OK when they do it. But it also ain't in the mainstream DNA of the Democratic Party at this time. Own your own words.
We have now become so passionate about politics in this country that it borders on mania, and some are worse than others. That does not provide a safer environment for any of us. It does not create a society that culturally promotes mental health. And that goes back to my first point: we don't have an adequate system in place to deal with a collective and crippling national mental illness. Which it seems is what politics has now become, and done so completely seperately from any shooting in Arizona.