Every day innocent and not-so-innocent people are gunned down on inner-city streets all across our country. Every day, somewhere around the globe, Americans kill people of other countries through wars, black ops or outright assassinations. Every day of every week of every month, year in and year out, the killing goes on. It's only when a high-profile figure—a president, rock star, or in the latest tragedy, a congresswoman and federal judge—is gunned down that we momentarily consider why violence is so prevalent in the United States. This time appears no different. But what spews from grandstanding politicians, pundits and political parties only serves to distract us from taking a realistic look at what really might be wrong with America's soul.
Reading, listening to or watching the outpouring of opinion on the causes of Saturday's assassination attempt on U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) is particularly revealing about how we deal with societal violence and, in particular, violence carried out with firearms. Our usual "cult of personality" approach looks to the shooter, 22-year-old Jared Loughner, and analyzes why this troubled young man decided to empty his pistol into a crowd after shooting Giffords in the head.
The left points fingers at Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and a host of other right-wing nutballs for their pronouncements about targeting political opponents, putting crosshairs on campaign materials and inciting the disgruntled populace to violence against those with whom they disagree.
There's plenty of evidence to back up those claims, even extending to Montana's former candidate for attorney general, Tim Fox, whose 2008 campaign website not only showed a big "D" in the crosshairs of a bullet-pocked target, but was accompanied by text saying "Democrats—in the GOP's crosshairs this November."
The right is off on its own version of the blame game, calling Loughner a "leftist" because he cited Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" on his Facebook page. Or maybe because he may have smoked pot. Who knows, he may have even liked NASCAR and light beer, too.
And then there's the whole "Second Amendment solution," which can be pretty easily translated to: "That's why we have the right to bear arms—to shoot people."
But the fact remains that focusing our attention on the gun, and who pulled the trigger, completely misses the main issue—and ignores why America has become one of the most violent societies on the planet.
Take President Obama. His sincere condolences went out to the victims of the shooting while he praised those who wrestled the shooter to the ground. But on the day after the shooting, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaimed that the tiny nation of Yemen was "a global threat," while Secretary of Defense Gates likewise whipped up national fear over his prediction that North Korea would be a nuclear threat to the United States in five years. And yes, this is the same President Obama who sanctioned assassination—political assassination—of dissident Americans abroad.
In the meantime, a befuddled and bitterly divided Congress does what? Does it turn down the dial on the U.S. violence meter and decide maybe we don't need to have a thousand military bases abroad, endorse "regime change" for those we don't like and engineer devastating wars—open and clandestine—across the globe? No, it doesn't.
Instead, what's supposed to be "the greatest deliberative body on earth" blabs on about new gun control measures—as if they can somehow put the Second Amendment genie back in the bottle. Their opponents, meanwhile, trot out the same old tired slogans that "guns don't kill people, people kill people." Incidentally, Giffords was herself a gun-rights advocate.
The simple truth is that short of banning possession of firearms, we will never stop people who want a gun from getting one. The street gangs should never be able to obtain guns under the existing laws, yet they are heavily armed and have no problems getting whatever firearms they want. Everyone knows this and it's only Congress that seems incapable of understanding the futility of their driveling while, once again, they line up opposing forces to continue the partisan battles.
What our nation needs to do, and what we seem so incapable of doing, requires a considerably wider form of introspection than trying to manage the symptoms of our out-of-control violence.
Ever see a violent TV show or movie? One in which people get shot? Or maybe a video game where shooting the "bad guys" scores you points? Ever see young kids watching those shows and movies or playing those games?
But that's just down here at the civilian level. Our government thinks it's okay to snuff suspected "insurgents" (aka, citizens of other countries) from the sky with predator drones. Do we kill innocents, too? Why sure, but that's called "collateral damage" when we wipe out a wedding party, slaughter women and children in their sleep and rationalize it all away with "we're at war."
Well, the war isn't just abroad these days, it's come home—again. If, as a nation, we really believe lethal force is not the preferred method of conflict resolution, we should reflect on the violence we inflict. President Obama should halt the assassinations, stop the predator drone killings, and end the wars. If we want peace at home, we must stop glorifying killing abroad and seek peace with those with whom we may not agree. Until the president, Congress, and the American people face the reality that we are one of the most violent nations on Earth, all the blather about shooters and guns are simply cheap and meaningless shots.
Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at firstname.lastname@example.org.