The repercussions of the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson last week, in which six others were murdered and 13 wounded, continue to resonate. Discussion — and discussions about the discussion continue. Discussions rise and fall about how to achieve the real changes that will make a repeat of this tragedy impossible. Will we stand up to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and work to enact real, stronger gun-control laws? Will we do anything to make mental health care truly accessible for those who so desperately need it? Will anything change in the nature of the governmental and media discourse that still allows not just hostile but eliminationist rhetoric featuring cross-hairs, “second amendment remedies,” and offers to “shoot a fully automatic M-16” as a campaign souvenir?
We don’t know yet. There’s way too much work ahead to even predict if there will be any change at all. President Obama’s funeral oration at the Tucson memorial hit all the right notes – urging all who listened to live our lives and make our country into the people and nation that nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green was just beginning to claim as her own. It was a powerful moment.
He didn’t say a word about the alleged gunman Jared Lee Loughner, or about the vitriol and the violence that has infected the political debate possibly having consequences. Maybe that was a good call for President Obama at that moment. Certainly Loughner is mentally disturbed, and while there’s no question his delusional rants reflect some of the right-wing tirades all too common on the Internet, it’s certainly possible those ideas didn’t have anything to do with his targeting of a politically moderate congresswoman.
And yet. What if? What if things were just a little bit different? What if the alleged gunman wasn’t named Jared Loughner but instead was named Ali Mohammed? What if he wasn’t a mentally ill white, Christian-Jewish native-born U.S. citizen but rather a mentally ill Muslim Arab immigrant? What if his delusional rants seemed to channel not those found-on-the-Internet right-wing American rants about the gold standard and government invasion, but rather those found-on-the-Internet calls for violent jihad? Would we still be so careful not to place any blame on those who spew hateful, violent rhetoric? Would we still be so certain that there’s no link between violent rhetoric and the response of an unstable mind to that rhetoric?
Did anyone even bother to find out if the would-be underwear bomber is actually mentally ill or unstable? How about the army psychiatrist accused of shooting 13 people at Fort Hood? Do we care? Or do we simply assume that anyone who carries out an act of violence inspired by some warped version of Islam is “sane,” but that someone who may have been inspired or influenced by “don’t retreat, reload” rhetoric when they carried out their shooting spree, but who looks and talks a little more “like us” must be inherently “crazy”?
What if? What if things were just a little bit different? What would be our response to the Tucson shootings then?