Unfortunately, Arizona Shooting May Not Have Taught Us Much

Entering Arizona on our cross-country move back in November of '09; a beautiful state currently going through a dark time.

If you have been reading this blog while it is in its infancy, you know I like to keep things light, talk about sports, and attempt to be humorous. Today, I can’t write about Saturday’s horrific shooting in Arizona with anything but a somber tone.

While anyone with a television, radio, or an Internet connection had to be gripped by this tragic story in some way, the reality is that not much will change in this country. That may sound harsh and pessimistic, but I don’t see any reason to think otherwise.

The major talking point following Saturday’s shooting is that there is too much vitriolic rhetoric coming from politicians these days. Sarah Palin’s infamous “crosshairs map” is front and center in the argument that both images and words have in some way inspired Jared Loughner’s actions.

Connecting the dots between mean-spirited political banter and Loughner may or may not be accurate. We have no idea if he has ever tuned into political talk shows (liberal, conservative, or anything in between), Fox News, MSNBC, or even the nightly news. Clearly he is mentally in another galaxy; analyzing whether the media subconsciously inspired him to go through with this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

The bottom line is that it shouldn’t take a tragedy for politicians, the media, and a lot of citizens to stop and think about how they express their disdain for government and its policies. Much in the same way it shouldn’t have taken the events of 9/11 for us to come together as a nation, put aside differences, and be more pleasant to each other in general. That wore off eventually, and I’m afraid any lesson about nasty rhetoric will fade as well.

Another discussion that started gaining traction about 24 hours after the killing is how this 22-year-old man with mental problems and a criminal record was able to purchase a gun. Arizona has some of the most lenient gun laws in the U.S. and Loughner took full advantage. It is scary to think someone with such a loose grip on reality was given the opportunity to have a tight grip on the trigger of a Glock-19. While individual states can and have made their gun laws stricter, the Second Amendment keeps events like Saturday in play.

The fact that Loughner was never apparently treated for his mental issues has come into question. Because Loughner was never declared mentally unfit by a court or committed to an mental institution he was able to legally obtain this weapon. Loughner clearly exhibited antisocial behavior in his classes as Pima County Community College, which eventually led to his dismissal from the school. But at that point it was up to him and his parents to get him the help he so desperately needed.

How do we draw that line of how nuts someone needs to be before that person is ordered to be tested for mental fitness? I have been in classes from elementary school through college with kids who were detached; talked to themselves or to inanimate object; made inappropriate comments or gestures in the classroom; or did things to harm themselves or others. I do not recall any of them being removed from school, and I know for sure that none of them ever murdered anybody.

The point is that as much as people can try to think of ways that Loughner could have been stopped before doing this, other than not letting him get his hands on a gun and all of the ammunition there is not a whole lot that could have been done. The worst crimes he had committed prior to Saturday were drug-related. The violent, crazed Jared Loughner existed in a vacuum…until Saturday anyway.

Perhaps after this the natural reaction will be that future political events, big or small, will be met with a larger degree of trepidation, by both politicians and citizens. And while that is certainly understandable, this act of violence was random. Not random in the sense that Loughner didn’t have a plan, but random in that it was a small gathering in Tucson, Arizona where a psychopath lived and stalked the local congresswoman. He could have lived in New York, Texas, or Hawaii and the same thing very well could have occurred. There is no way to know.

No one heading to this event was fearful as they made their way to that strip mall on Saturday morning. Just like none of the Virginia Tech students had any sense of fear when their day started on April 16, 2007. Just like the people at the American Civic Association in Binghamton, NY didn’t think they had anything to worry about on April 3, 2009.

The victims of these tragedies certainly fall into the “wrong place, wrong time” category. We can’t live our lives trying to guess which places and times are safe. The relative rarity of mass murders means we really shouldn’t change our day-to-day behaviors or events we choose to attend.

As much of an impact as this story has, things probably won’t change much in the long run. Politicians will still sling mud at each other, talk show hosts will still say off-the-wall things, guns will still be accessible to various degrees, and the most frightening thing is that there may be other Jared Loughners out there.

All we can do is think for ourselves, love our friends and family, and live our lives the way we plan to live them.

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