As Rep. Gabrielle Giffords lies in an induced coma, the country's begun to argue about the causes of her brutal shooting — and, less contentiously, to honor those who stepped in to protect her.
Sarah Palin's now-infamous crosshairs map took much of the early blame for inciting shooter Jared Loughner's deranged rampage, but critics are also calling out right-wing rhetoric. Writing in the Guardian, Jessica Valenti criticizes the "man up" language of recent political debates, and its adoption by female politicians (she's one of many to mention Sharron Angle's threat that disgruntled citizens would turn to "second amendment remedies"). Valenti writes,
In a country that sees masculinity – especially violent masculinity – as the ideal, it's no wonder that this type of language resonates. But it's a sad state of affairs when women in politics have to resort to using the same gendered stereotypes that kept all women out of public service for so long.
Paul Krugman, too, sees "eliminationist rhetoric" as the source of an increase in threats against American politicians — and, eventually, an impetus for unhinged people to make good on those threats. He writes,
[T]here's not much question what has changed. As Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff responsible for dealing with the Arizona shootings, put it, it's "the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business." The vast majority of those who listen to that toxic rhetoric stop short of actual violence, but some, inevitably, cross that line.
However, as Gail Collins points out, language can only go so far. She points out,
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.
To promote violence, whether through crosshairs on a map or references to "second amendment remedies" is indeed irresponsible. But Collins makes a persuasive case that the kind of carnage wreaked by Loughner — six dead, twelve injured — wouldn't have been possible without a semiautomatic weapon, one the president of the Brady Campaign called "not suited for hunting or personal protection." In dismantling America's culture of violence, we need to look not just at words, but at deeds — and caving to the gun lobby at the expense of Americans' safety is a pretty nefarious one.
Some of the only bright spots in an incredibly dark weekend were the ordinary people who risked their lives to stop Loughner and help his victims. Giffords intern Daniel Hernandez ran toward the gunfire to help the Congresswoman — he tells CBS, "I wanted to make sure if she or anyone around her were injured, that I provide her with whatever assistance I could until the EMTs could get there." Meanwhile, 61-year-old Patricia Maisch managed to grab Loughner's ammunition clip and prevent him from reloading: "I was not able to reach the gun. I saw him pull the magazine out. He dropped it on the sidewalk and he grabbed at it, but I was able to get it first." Says Maisch, "I'm no hero," she said. "The two men who tackled him are the real heroes." Hernandez, too, declines the mantle of heroism: "I think it's a little strange to be calling me a hero, because the things that I did was a one-off. However, the real heroes are people like Congresswoman Giffords, who have dedicated their lives to public service and helping others." As of yesterday, Giffords remained in a coma, with doctors ready to battle brain swelling and infection before she can even begin what may be a long process of rehabilitation. Her job has already cost her some brain tissue and almost half her skull, and even if rehab is successful, she could face lifelong seizures. If this is the price of public service in America, we're doing something very wrong.
The Shooting Of Gabrielle Giffords Highlights The 'Man-Up' Culture In US Politics [Guardian]
Gabrielle Giffords Shooting: Brave Bystanders Help Subdue Arizona Killer Jared Lee Loughner [NY Daily News]
A Right To Bear Glocks? [NYT]
Hero Intern Describes Actions To Save Giffords [CBS]
Climate Of Hate [NYT]
Treating An Injured Brain Is A Long, Uncertain Process [NYT]