Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Gabrielle Giffords Tragedy—and Ours

Martha note: Denise Zito is a regular contributor to WMRA's Civic Soapbox -- in fact one of her essays is set to air this Friday. She sent me the following reaction to the Arizona shootings because, she said, she "needed to vent." And I hope it will stimulate some constructive venting in you as well. 

As surely as the sun rises in the east, the public, repetitive analysis begins as to why someone would pull a gun and shoot into a crowd of people. This time, the shooting takes place at a shopping center and a Congresswoman in Tucson and fourteen others are gunned down.

Columbine. Oklahoma City. Blacksburg, Virginia and so many others.

Some argue that the political climate is so caustic that the mentally vulnerable are driven to act out the metaphorical language that ‘targets’ politicians for removal from office.

Others claim that these are simply individual acts, and the sole responsibility of the shooter.

Those who attended religious services this weekend heard some version of these opinions in the petitions served up to God.

This time, I’m observing an interesting twist. As an example of how ‘unhinged’ Jared Loughner supposedly is, a reporter listed the books that Loughner posted on his Facebook page: Brave New World, Animal Farm, Alice in Wonderland and others that nearly every high school student in the country is asked to read. How does this list classify someone as ‘unhinged’?

Loughner also posted a disturbing video of a hooded figure in the desert, burning an American flag. Yes, I find this disturbing, and I would ask if anyone has been to a movie theater lately? I find many movie previews to be as horrifying as Loughner’s video posting. Nearly half of all movie previews these days involve guns, car chases and intense terror.

I’m not writing to advocate movie censorship, only pointing out that a ready supply of guns and the persistent glorification of violence in our society are moving us toward an expected outcome. But nothing about this incident should surprise us. Our political climate characterizes one side as ‘the enemy’ when in fact we are Americans with different opinions. One party allows the demonizing of our President and our elected officials. One party uses imagery of weapons and war in describing political debate.

As expected, we’ll all line up to reflect on the tragedy of Congresswoman Giffords and the others as either the random act of a mentally ill person, or the playing out of the worst scenario of our culture of violence.

The most discouraging part of this for me, is that I’ve stopped expecting anything in our society to change, no matter how horrific the acts of violence. I’ve concluded that only the small, personal acts of kindness are in my control. This is a sad commentary in a Democracy.
                   --Denise Zito lives in Free Union.


  1. Thank you Denise for writing this essay. I too have been thinking about the young man who 'ran amok' in AZ. When will his mother go on a talk show and say she had no idea what he was up to? How many different ways will this story spin out in American life? Will more members of congress carry guns and/or hire security?

    In my mind, the abundance and ease of acquiring guns is our national tragedy. We let the assault weapon ban run out, so now a Glock can be purchased almost as easily as a bow and arrow. And why would a hunter need such a gun?

    We can try and help the mentally ill, who will always be among us, by early identification and treatment. But ask any doctor in VA if there are enough hospital beds for the mentally ill and they will say, "No." Ask any parent if mental illness is covered by their insurer. These are policy issues we can address as a nation if we see fit. As a nation, we regulate where and how our children can sit in a car...but we can't seem to regulate guns.

    Gun violence is our largest public health enemy. Will Congress and our President wake up to that?

  2. An interesting and similarly themed article from CNN -


  3. Cars kill more people than guns, but they are not considered a public health hazard. Mr. Loughner did not use an assault weapon either. The public health hazard is that we let civil liberties prevent us from locking up people who are clearly crazy. We also don't effectively prevent crazy people from buying guys. We do this with felons, why not add mentally ill people to the same background check database? As a Virginia Tech alumnus, I was appalled that the shooter bought his gun legally when he had previously been institutionalized. People knew he was dangerous already.

    Read The Dream and the Nightmare by Myron Magnet to understand how the mentally ill have been released into society in the name of civil rights.