Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ effort to initiate dialogue in Arizona ended with gunshots Saturday. Sadly, hers was not an isolated case — this has happened in the past. And if this tragedy does not spur radical changes in the U.S., it will happen again. And soon.
After all, the conditions are ripe for another massacre: a growing climate of political and social intolerance in a nation where millions of guns can be had at cheap prices. All simply a preamble to another attack on those in public office.
On Saturday morning, all Rep. Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, wanted to do was hold a meeting with residents in front of a supermarket in Tucson. But Jared L. Loughner, carrying a gun and burning with anger and intolerance, ended the dialogue and the lives of six people, including a 9-year-old girl. Why did this happen?
First, the obvious. This 22-year-old man was able to get his hands on a semiautomatic weapon, making it possible for him to fire several rounds before having to reload. It is amazingly easy to obtain firearms in the United States — the Second Amendment makes this possible. But while the unrestricted right to bear arms made sense in 1791 — when arms were less powerful and the American Revolution was a powerful memory — it does not make sense in 2011. What the U.S. needs now is tougher restrictions. But very few politicians dare to propose such laws out of fear of crossing the National Rifle Association and becoming a target for their campaigns at election time. Our failing to restrict access to firearms leads to tragedies like the one in Tucson. Many people have noted that Loughner had a history of odd behavior that seems indicative of mental illness, and maybe that is true. But beyond his psychological issues and easy access to guns, there are other reasons behind these acts of violence. Our society is becoming more brutal and aggressive, and this is a problem whose roots run deep. The United States is witnessing a terrible period of intolerance. Republicans and Democrats viciously attack the other side’s viewpoints in public. Radio and television talk shows are full of prejudice and hatred. Dialogue in our country has been replaced by dissent and conflict, and shouting drowns out all attempts at thoughtful argument.
And it is no coincidence that this massacre happened in Arizona. This is, after all, the state in which a law discriminating against Hispanics was approved last year. Clarence Dupnik, Pima County sheriff said last weekend that Arizona is “the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.” He is right. The murders in Tucson are the result of a culture that promotes intolerance and violence.
But there is more. We cannot underestimate the effects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the culture of violence that they have fostered. Many have expressed shock that a young man like Loughner could commit such a terrible act. Yet he is one among millions of young men living in a nation that sees war as a useful and reliable solution. This generation has grown up seeing top public officials react to problems by using overwhelming force. That is what is shown on the news, what has been re-created in video games, and what society has taught them since childhood. Now that they’re coming of age, just one young man armed with a gun and his prejudices leads to another tragedy.
Certainly, the call for a return to sanity and civility on the parts of politicians and opinion leaders is necessary. But my fear is that, once this news cycle ends, the public discourse will return to the vituperative status quo, and this sort of attack will happen again.
And again and again.
By Jorge Ramos Avalos
© 2010 Jorge Ramos
(January 10, 2011)