My One and Only Post on the Giffords Shooting

The Arizona shooting that took the lives of several people and injured many others is an awful thing. I can’t even imagine what the victims and their families are going through right now. My heart goes out to them and I pray that they are able to find some comfort in a dark time.

In the meantime, I’m ashamed of my countrymen who have turned this act into a partisan pissing match.

I have said this before, and I will say it again: people aren’t responsible for the acts of people who share their ideas. Catholics aren’t responsible for abortion clinic bombings. Muslims aren’t responsible for al-Qaeda. Glenn Beck isn’t responsible for some nutjob shooting up the Tides Foundation. And Sarah Palin certainly isn’t responsible for this act. The only people responsible for bad acts are those who commit them.

As far as we can tell, this was simply the work of one or possibly two people. Not some vast conspiracy.

If the early reports are correct, it appears that the shooter was emotionally disturbed and possibly mentally ill. And it is a sad fact of life that there are a small number of violently mentally ill people in this world who will concoct any number of stories to commit their crimes. John Hinckley, Jr. shot Reagan to impress Jodie Foster. Mark David Chapman killed John Lennon because he heard voices in his head. The vast majority of suicide bombers are suicidally depressed people who use religion as a convenient excuse to kill themselves.

After a shooting like this, we should not be asking how we can best score points against our political opponents or point fingers at politicians. We should instead ask how we can better identify the violently mentally ill and get them the help they need before they present a danger to themselves and others.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Islam, Quick Takes
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. Dave says:

    There’s a subtle though still large different between using the incident as a “partisan pissing match” and making the (debatable) argument that heated political rhetoric centered on developed metaphors of armed resistance is dangerous and ill-advised. That’s not necessarily partisan football at all; it’s a serious concern about public safety that is necessary to discuss and debate.

  2. Dave says:

    *difference

  3. Michael says:

    Look, if this were just partisan politics, we’d be blaming Palin’s stance on off-shore drilling, or the Tea Party’s stance on federal spending, or the GOP’s attempts to repeal ACA.

    But we’re not, we’re blaming inflammatory statements, we’re blaming equating shooting people with acceptable forms of political opposition, we’re blaming imagery that some crazy person might take as an endorsement to violence from someone they trust because we, at least, knew that those crazy people were listening.

  4. Linda says:

    Sadly, Alex, the mentally unstable tend to stay below the radar until they do something outrageous. If you look at Mark Chapman, John Hinckley, “Squeaky” Fromm, etc, they weren’t the stark raving mad lunatics types that would draw attention.

    Even when they are overtly “off” as with teenage high school assassins Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and Kip Kinkel, not much will be done to them, or for them, before they crack. Teenagers fall under their parents purview, and if the parents are disinterested, there’s not a lot that can be done.

    Once they become adults, such as the Va Tech shooter, they have to request help. If they don’t, again there’s not much that can be done.

    Mental illness still carries a stigma that people don’t want to admit to it or even ask for help. It’s only been recently that depression started getting attention and support.

    While the sentiment of getting them help before they present a danger is noble, it is just that: a noble sentiment. Identifying them and helping them crosses too many sticky and very touchy boundaries.

  5. john personna says:

    I think the difference Dave names isn’t really that subtle. The frustrating thing is that violence in rhetoric thing is visible that it is essentially opposed, pushed aside, very consciously.

    Another serious question involves groups and their nuts. All groups attract nuts, but not all groups have the same relationship with their nuts. It’s something I noticed (to pick a non-political and non-violent example) with the peak oil folks. Their nuts were building mud huts off the grid, in preparation for the oil crash. The thing I couldn’t figure out for a while was, why were the mud hut builders speaking at peak oil forums? Why didn’t the serious folk exclude them?

    Well, in that case I think it turned out that the nuts were too much part of the movement.

  6. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    If there was a political component to this shooting, guess we can look at what he read. Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf were a couple of his favorite readings. Along with Animal Farm. So if there is politics behind this it is from the left. What I want to know is why this person, who had a history of mental issues was allowed to purchase a firearm. The Sheriff of Pima County was very quick to add a political opinion on this issue. I think the citizens of that country would have been better served if the Sheriff had done his job about the background check required for the purchase of firearms that is required by the ATF. It is always just like those on the left to blame everything and everyone except the person who did the deed. This has notthing to do with Tea Parties, Sarah Palin or cross hairs on a map but rather a mentally challenged individual who had posssession of something he should not have and a Sheriff who did not do his job.

  7. john personna says:

    Zels, you think leftists like Animal Farm? And Mein Kampf?

    He was a nut surveying the political spectrum. That should have been a warning to people who knew him. As it happens, in the end he settled on gold standard and constitutional stuff, things that are not at all left. But I’m not going to claim they are right.

    They are just pieces he fit into his madness.

    The reason we should build a calm an peaceful national political consciousness is that we don’t reinforce people like this. We don’t give them so many pieces.

  8. Michael says:

    If there was a political component to this shooting, guess we can look at what he read. Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf were a couple of his favorite readings. Along with Animal Farm. So if there is politics behind this it is from the left.

    Do you even know what those books are?

  9. I have said this before, and I will say it again: people aren’t responsible for the acts of people who share their ideas.

    False dilemma; it is possible to criticize Palin without claiming she is responsible for the assassination attempt. If normal people were more loath to use inflammatory rhetoric, the Jared Lochners of the world would stick out like a sore thumb. But with all the metphorical talk about violent revolution going on, they tend to blend in until it’s too late.

    It’s the rhetorical equivalent of piling junk in a vacant lot. The biggest problem with doing so is that it ends up providing a hiding spot for vermin and pretty soon the neighborhood is overrun with rats

  10. MarkedMan says:

    Although I mostly agree with Alex, it is only with the caveats listed above. If someone is trying to make political hay, they are in the wrong. But it is necessary to call out people like Sharon Angle, who encouraged people to ‘exercise second amendment solutions’, or the nutball rep from Florida (?) whose first choice in chief of staff was a radio show host who talked, seemingly seriously, about getting guns, heading for the hills, and waging a revolution if the Democrats kept the house. If there is a Democrat doing it, they need to stop too.

  11. Trumwill says:

    Well put.

    It’s genuinely been an enlightening couple of days. Some folks I would have expected more from either immediately went political with this or leaped to the defense of those that did. Some that I might have expected to do so chose not to. But enlightening or no, I find it too distasteful (including behavior by many on the right as well as the left) to participate any further. Someone said in another comment that this was unfortunate but inevitable. Sounds about right. It would at least have been preferable to be able to absorb the events of the day before it becoming a political hockey puck.

    (Much the same sensation I had after the Ft. Hood shooting, in fact.)

  12. Well said Alex. Alas, not everyone here can resist a little “but…”

  13. TG Chicago says:

    “I have said this before, and I will say it again: people aren’t responsible for the acts of people who share their ideas. […] The only people responsible for bad acts are those who commit them.”

    So I guess this means that Anwar al-Awlaki is innocent. Interesting.

  14. Jay Tea says:

    False dilemma; it is possible to criticize Palin without claiming she is responsible for the assassination attempt.

    Oh, absolutely. But to criticize Palin in the context of the shooting, in direct relation to the shooting, WITHOUT trying to hold her responsible in some way? That would be a hell of a trick.

    “I have said this before, and I will say it again: people aren’t responsible for the acts of people who share their ideas. […] The only people responsible for bad acts are those who commit them.”

    So I guess this means that Anwar al-Awlaki is innocent. Interesting.

    In his case, there’s direct contact between him and the terrorists, with him directly giving them encouragement and advice. He actively and explicitly solicits acts of terrorism.

    J.

  15. john personna says:

    Such are the moral complexities of our lives, Jay Tea.

    Sarah could have made the wrong choice in symbolism without being a bad person, let alone responsible for any later crazy-man’s act.

    It would just be misreading the moral question to say that because she wasn’t responsible, she wasn’t wrong.

    (Don’t know who Anwar is, but if he is directly advocating violence, then he and people who share his ideas, are on a different scale entirely.}

  16. Ronin says:

    Comment in violation of site policies deleted.

    Those wishing to buy advertising should send inquiries to otb@blogads.com

  17. TG Chicago says:

    “In [al-Awlaki’s] case, there’s direct contact between him and the terrorists, with him directly giving them encouragement and advice. He actively and explicitly solicits acts of terrorism.”

    He has had direct contacts with some of them, but I’m not sure the evidence that has been released supports everythign you say. He hasn’t been indicted, which is unusual if there is evidence for your claims.

    But let’s take the case of the Times Square bomber. There aren’t allegations of direct contact in that case. Is Awlaki culpable there? If so, how is that different?

  18. michael reynolds says:

    Alex:

    In a perfect world we would wait until all the facts were in before engaging in debate. Unfortunately that’s not realistic. The news cycle will swallow this story up and it will disappear without a ripple. So the time to address the underlying issues is now because in the modern world “now” is the only time for anything.

    The problem is that those of us who early on called for some chill soon found that people like Doug Mataconis were taking it the next step and suggesting we not discuss this event and the surrounding issues at all, or push the discussion off into some never-never land future. That’s when I parted company with the chill crowd.

    What we know is that we have a man who appears to be a paranoid schizophrenic. We know that numerous people around him identified him (in amateur capacities) as such. And yet in Arizona he was able to buy a pistol and an extended magazine and ammo for same.

    How did this happen? The Republican party made it happen. It’s really that simple. The GOP’s fetishization of guns, its slavish adherence to extremist NRA doctrine, made it possible for a mental case to buy a weapon that is of no value in hunting, and a magazine which only has value to people contemplating mass murder.

    The time to discuss that fact is now. Because there is no “later.”

    We also know that the right has practiced deliberately violent rhetoric that is closely linked intellectually and emotionally with the gun cultists. I believe the right is recklessly poisoning political dialog by linking threats (Reload! The blood of patriots and tyrants . . . etc…) with demonization and dehumanization of political opponents. And further that the right is mixing this stew with elements of racism.

    The time to talk about this is also now.

  19. Drew says:

    Thanks, Alex, for one of the very few sane comments on this matter.

    That said, for all those who have tried to make the case that this a “right wing,” Tea Party, or anti-government issue, all spawned by shrill public discourse in the past few years, well, I’ve come around to your way of thinking. I think all those public figures who create shrill, erroneous public discourse should be immediately jailed:

    “Gore Says George W. Bush Tried to Increase the Amount of Arsenic in America’s Drinking Water: “Instead of ensuring that our water is clean to drink, [the Bush Administration] tried to increase the amount of arsenic in our water.” – Al Gore, April 22, 2002 (Speech by Al Gore on Earth Day 2002, text available via http://www.algore04.com/gorefacts/speeches/index.shtml)

    Three days before George W. Bush was inaugurated, the Clinton Administration announced a rule reducing the amount of arsenic allowed in public water systems from 50 parts per billion to 10 ppb.2 The new rule, which was to replace a standard in effect since 1942, was one of many regulations proposed by the Clinton Administration during the brief time between Bush’s acknowledged election victory and Bush’s inauguration.

    On January 20, 2001, Bush signed an order temporarily delaying issuance of many of Clinton’s last-minute regulations to give his new Administration a chance to review their content. The new arsenic standard rule was among them. However, as it was not due to take effect until 2006, Bush’s temporary hold in 2001 had no impact on water quality.

    Tougher standards had been controversial because they were expected to be expensive (especially for small communities served by small water systems and in the Western U.S., which has more naturally-occurring arsenic) and because some argued tougher standards were unnecessary for human health.

    The Clinton Administration’s EPA had estimated a 10 ppb standard would save 23-33 lives per year. A joint American Enterprise Institute-Brookings Institution study, however, had concluded the new rules would actually cost lives (due to the negative impact of higher water costs on low income families).

    The Bush Administration asked the National Academies of Science to report to the Administration on the likely health impacts of various possible new arsenic standards (3 ppb, 5 ppb, 10 ppb and 20 ppb). (Notably, the Administration did not ask the NAS to study the impact of leaving the 1942 standard in place, making it unlikely that the Administration ever seriously contemplated leaving the rules unchanged.)

    The NAS studied the issue and, on September 11, 2001, issued a report concluding that the bladder/lung cancer risk for a 3 ppb standard would be 4 persons in 10,000; at 5 parts per billion, 6.5 in 10,000; at 10 parts per billion, greater than 1 in 1,000; and at 20 parts per billion, more than 2 in 1,000.6

    After reviewing the NAS study, the Bush Administration decided to accept the Clinton Administration recommendation of a new 10 ppb standard and to keep the Clinton Administration implementation date of 2006. On November 26, 2001, almost half a year before Gore’s speech quoted above, Bush lowered the allowable arsenic level to 10 ppb.

  20. Wes Morgan says:

    Jay Tea wrote: “Oh, absolutely. But to criticize Palin in the context of the shooting, in direct relation to the shooting, WITHOUT trying to hold her responsible in some way? That would be a hell of a trick”

    How about those who have been criticizing such rhetoric for months (or years)? To be sure, this level of rhetoric isn’t something that started with Palin, although she has certainly become one of its prime practicioners. One can trace the current rhetorical flourishes of the political right to 1996, when Newt Gingrich’s GOPAC specifically advised Republican lawmakers/candidates to repeatedly refer to their opponents with terms such as “traitors”, “anti-flag” and “radical”, in the name of political advantage. (read the “Language: A Key Element of Control” memo…)

    I would not suggest that these political speakers are directly responsible for the acts of disturbed persons. I will, however, submit that the use of such imagery and rhetoric DOES “set the stage,” in that it creates an air of us-versus-them, good-versus-evil, survival-at-stake, death-of-the-Republic uncertainty in which these unstable persons DO feel the need to take matters into their own hands. When the purpose of one’s rhetoric is to paint one’s opponents as “evil”, “tyrants” or “un-American”, and one’s encouragement to supporters is couched in terms of armed warfare and/or rebellion (Palin’s “don’t retreat – only RELOAD!”, Bachmann’s “armed and dangerous”, Jesse Kelly’s “Get On Target for Victory…Help Remove Gabrielle Giffords From Office…Shoot a fully automatic M16” event ), then one’s tactics ARE contributing factors to the environment in which the unstable take physical action.

    Let’s be clear on this one – I don’t care what some random blogger/commenter says, and it strikes me as ridiculous to offer, say, random blog articles as a counterpoint to Palin’s “prescribe the solution” crosshairs imagery or Angle’s “Second Amendment remedies” rhetoric. The talking heads and elected officials/candidates have megaphones–in their well-funded operations and the media–that these online (relative) unknown can never match. I DO hold elected officials, and those who would serve, to a higher standard; almost by definition, they guide public opinion, and with that power comes responsibility. We have to stop the fear-mongering.