Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Jared Loughner, Free Speech, Guns, and Me

Ever since the horrible shootings in a shopping mall in Tucson, AZ last Saturday, I've been reading all kinds of articles about the incident itself and the people involved as well as commentary about the contributory role violent political rhetoric did, didn't, may have, or may not have played in this terrible tragedy. And when I think about all I've read in light of my own life experience and understandings, I come to the conclusion that it's all too complicated for me to be as simple and conclusive in my opinions as many people across the entire political spectrum appear to be in theirs.

For one thing, although I hate what Jared Loughner did, I don't know what "we the people" should do to him in legal response. I think he acted crazy before, during, and after the shootings, and I don't think this was just an "act."

But even though I'm philosophically opposed to punishing people for committing crimes their apparent mental disorderdness caused them to commit, I emotionally want Jared Loughner to pay for his crimes in a manner that goes beyond mere lifetime incarceration in a mental ward or prison. I want him to suffer to the point where he genuinely regrets the harm and devastation he caused, even if it's only regret for the way it destroyed his own life and prospects for happiness, and to where other potential mass murderers are deterred by his well-publicized suffering from acting out their own murderous proclivities and fantasies. But what kind and degree of suffering would this entail in order to be effective without being grossly unjust? I don't know.

For another thing, I hear people blaming Loughner's parents for raising him to be crazy or, at least, for not getting him the help he needed to overcome his craziness or, at least, not act it out in a murderous frenzy last Saturday morning. But what do these critics know that I don't about Loughner's parents? I certainly don't know enough to pass scathing judgement on them or to pass any judgement on them whatsoever, and so I won't.

Finally, people on the left are accusing people on the right of spurring Loughner to violence with their violent political rhetoric and of enabling him to be so destructive with it by their legal blocking of attempts to keep people like him from getting their deranged hands on semi-automatic firearms and extended ammo clips meant for SWAT teams and soldiers at war, while there are those on the right who excoriate the left for, as one of the right's more brilliantly intellectual albeit obscure spokespersons calls it, its "vicious" and "exploitative" attacks on the right.

Well, I consider myself strongly inclined toward the left end of the political spectrum, but I don't flatly accuse right-wing rhetoric of causing the shootings in question or seek to have such rhetoric outlawed, nor do I wish to pry firearms from the patriotic hands of the American public. But I do think it would be a good idea to seize the moment to discuss and reflect upon the corrosive and provocative effects the prevailingly bitter political partisanship and violent rhetoric coming from people of all political persuasions may be having on this great nation, and I also think that no private citizen, at least not without special and well-considered dispensation, needs to be legally entitled to carry around unlicensed, concealed, autoloading firearms with 30+ round clips in public.

What's more, I don't think that one needs to be a "vicious" liberal exploiting a tragedy in order to sock it to conservatives to believe as I do and express it in this or any forum.

Beyond what I do and don't think about all of this, I don't know what to do about any of it except continue to discuss it with people who seem receptive to dialogue, but discuss it and all subjects and issues of political or other significance with civility and respect for the people with whom I'm discussing them. For whether angry rhetoric and debate played or didn't play a significant role in Loughner's actions, I think it's a real problem in this country, and I don't want to be part of the problem.

Maybe I can or can't help bring the country together, but I can darn sure stop doing anything to drive it further apart.

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