My first reaction on hearing of the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz) in a Tuscon Safeway parking lot: it figures it was Arizona.
In a country where political rage and incitement pose as entertainment and the gun lobby successfully boosts a radical, mostly insane view that the rights of gun owners trump all other rights, Arizona is a place where this sickness rages with particular virulence.
In a number of visits to the Phoenix area in the past few years I’ve been struck by the anger you hear in the grocery stores, in the retirement communities, at the local diner. We don’t know the motives behind the shooting, but we know Giffords, who is Jewish, was a particular target of this kind of rage, in part because of her strong opposition to Arizona’s controversial law on illegal immigrants, in part because …well, that’s just the way we talk to each other about controversial issues.
Arizona, it seems to me, is a place that epitomizes the way rage has become our political medium of exchange. The New York Times reported that the local sheriff “blamed the toxic political environment in Arizona.” Giffords, according to the Times, was the recipient of numerous threats; her reelection campaign last year, which she won by a narrow margin, generated some of the ugliest rhetoric in a particularly ugly political year.
According to ABC News, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said "The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately Arizona I think is the capital. We are the Mecca for prejudice for prejudice and bigotry.”
And Arizona is a national leader in enshrining gun ownership.
But it would be a mistake to say Arizona is unique; maybe it’s just the leading edge of what we are becoming. Just scan the AM radio dial for a dose of political incitement that depicts every debate as a war to the death between the beleaguered forces of good versus absolute, diabolical evil – meaning everybody you don’t agree with.
And guns…what can you say about a lobby that demands that every kind of weapon be available to the craziest among us and that the answer to gun violence is always more guns? What can you say about a Congress that cowers before a gun lobby that knows no restraint?
For that matter, what can you say about an electorate that buys into the claim that gun ownership is our most sacred right and which treats the most modest, moderate gun control legislation as the inevitable first step on the road to confiscation and totalitarianism?
A sad day, in many ways.