“I am so ___ about the mass killing in Tucson this Saturday that I think ____ ought to be _____.”
The first blank is easy: I am mad. I am mad, in part, because it seems almost impossible not to be. And yet I’m also mad because, for all the talk of ‘taking it down a notch’, I think that only by being furious about what has happened are we likely to do anything to prevent similar things from happening in the future. “Sincere condolences” and “heartfelt prayers”, however genuine, are cheap. They ask nothing of us. I’m mad because this tragedy was preventable, and so will be the tragedies of tomorrow and the day after that (let’s not forget that, to get to 12,000+ gun murders per year, you have to gun violence on par with that in Tucson every day). Mostly, I’m mad because, in the end, I am sure that complacent sorrow will win out over righteous anger, and this shooting in a Tucson Safeway will teach us about as much as those that happened in a Colorado High School and a Virginian University–which is to say, absolutely nothing.
The second blank is no more difficult for me to fill in. Obviously, Jared Loughner, the deranged gunman, deserves to face the lion’s share of our anger and the brunt of the law. But, as a sociologist, I believe that none of us ever truly acts alone; we are always constrained by the options society offers us and motivated by the ideas society feeds us. One of the country’s major parties has spent decades dismantling gun laws and the most recent election glorifying armed revolution against the government. Is it really surprising that someone took this rhetoric seriously, and availed themselves of the violent options we have opened to them? And so, I have no problem inserting Sarah Palin—who “targeted” Giffords in the last election—or Tea Partyers like Sharon Angle—who suggested that “second amendment solutions” were necessary to deal with Democratic lawmakers—as individuals who also should share in the accountability for this event. Along with them in co-responsibility should be lawmakers who eviscerated mental health services in the name of tax cuts in Arizona.
The last blank, though, is hard. I’m mad as hell, and a great deal of my anger is directed at that ever-so-nebulous entity, “the government” and a few people associated with it, like Jan Brewer, Arizona’s “Guns-in-Bars-and-Campuses” Governor. In fact, I’m so angry that I really think these people ought to be…
Ought to be what?
Shot? Maimed? Threatened? Intimidated?
My great frustration now is the realization that there seems like practically no productive way to act on my anger. I live in Arizona—even Gabrielle Giffords supports gun rights, so I am skeptical of voting as a mechanism for change. I doubt the big donation I am sending to the Brady Campaign today will be any match for the thousands of NRA supporters who are no doubt marshalling to protect their Glocs and Tec-9s. And so, I am left with no option but to take options into my own hands and…
And do nothing, I suppose.
Strangely, I think this inertia is why I am proud to be on the left. The counterattacks of the Republicans against those who have blamed vitriolic political rhetoric for the violence are, in a sense, correct: nasty rhetoric and anger at the government are things shared by both sides. The issue is how we fill in that last blank—how we act on it. I’ve spent two years researching radical anarchists, many of whom are on FBI lists as part of “Number One Domestic Terror Threat”, and yet never heard even one offhand remark about harming an elected official. Can we really imagine that the massive 1999 protests in Seattle—with their incumbent police violence and property destruction—would have passed without a single death, if leftists shared conservatives proclivity for firearm ownership?
I’m mad as hell… and, to gramatically pervert the phrase, I AM going to take it anymore, because that’s what makes us not like them.