In my fair-and-balanced article today on hateful political rhetoric and the mass murder in Tucson, I noted that Philadelphia Rep. Bob Brady is proposing a law that would make it a crime to use certain violent imagery against members of Congress -- an idea that he acknowledges is inspired by Sarah Palin's infamous 2010 map that targeted Saturday's assassination-attempt victim Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and others, with the image of crosshairs.
I'd like to go deeper on that at some future point, but let's just say for now that Brady's idea is wrong-headed and goes way too far. If he was truly offended by Sarah Palin's actions -- as he probably was -- then he had the remarkable power as a U.S. congressman to go on national TV and condemn her. The best remedy for hate speech is to drown it out with good speech. We don't need no stinkin' law.
But you do have to wonder about a nation that considers laws and other harsh measures against political rhetoric, but at this point is scared (bleep)less about even talking about whether we should even begin a conversation about the legality of purchasing the actual devices that kill or maim our fellow human beings.
Today, the amazing thing about the reaction to the Giffords shooting is that virtually all the discussion about how to prevent a recurrence has been focusing on improving the tone of our political discourse. That would certainly be great. But you do not hear much about the fact that Jared Loughner came to Giffords’s sweet gathering with a semiautomatic weapon that he was able to buy legally because the law restricting their sale expired in 2004 and Congress did not have the guts to face up to the National Rifle Association and extend it.
If Loughner had gone to the Safeway carrying a regular pistol, the kind most Americans think of when they think of the right to bear arms, Giffords would probably still have been shot and we would still be having that conversation about whether it was a sane idea to put her Congressional district in the cross hairs of a rifle on the Internet.
But we might not have lost a federal judge, a 76-year-old church volunteer, two elderly women, Giffords’s 30-year-old constituent services director and a 9-year-old girl who had recently been elected to the student council at her school and went to the event because she wanted to see how democracy worked.
We Americans have developed an agreed-upon social protocol for how to react to the gun-related horrors that regularly capture the news pages. Journalists spring into action with a standard-issue set of questions: What happened? Who did it? What made him snap? Should someone have known? Yet this whole exercise of seeking to identify the unique strain of madness at work seems more about enabling false comfort then fully elucidating how we got here, a sideshow distracting us from the hard work that would be required to take on the gun lobby and limit access to the only part of the narrative that weighs in as a hard, cold fact: the weapon.
Don't despair, you gun lovers who read this. One of the remarkable stories of our time is that even as deadly rampages like the one in Tucson increase, support for gun control among Americans steadily drops, and currently is at a historical low. How we got to this bizarre moment in time is something that will hopefully be disected and understood in the months and years to come.