Like many of us, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we could change the laws in this country so that we might actually be able to prevent incidents like the Connecticut school massacre.
I’ve long been an unenthusiastic supporter of stricter gun control. Supporter because I think the wild proliferation of guns is doing terrible things to our country. (Personally, I’d ban everything but hunting rifles.) Unenthusiastic because I have real doubts that anything other than a near-total prohibition would do much good — and that’s not going to happen.
At the moment, I’m thinking that we should focus on doing much, much more to screen people for mental illness before we allow them to buy guns. I don’t know if it would have mattered in Connecticut, especially if it turns out that the guns were purchased by the shooter’s mother. But it might very well have prevented the Gabrielle Giffords and Virginia Tech shootings.
And since we know that this is going to get bogged down in politics, it also seems to me that keeping paranoid schizophrenics away from guns might be the one issue on which Republicans could be persuaded to stand up to the NRA.
If you read nothing else today, be sure to read this New York Times story on the medical response to the Tucson shootings. It is a tremendous piece of on-the-ground journalism, informative, exhilarating and heart-breaking.
The New York Times today fails to call a Sarah Palin spokeswoman on what has all the appearances of a flat-out lie.
In a story on the political fallout of the weekend carnage in Tucson that claimed the lives of six people and left U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords gravely injured, Times reporters Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg tell us that Palin adviser Rebecca Mansour denied that those were gunsights on Palin’s infamous map identifying House Democrats she had targeted for defeat. Zeleny and Rutenberg write of Mansour’s appearance on a conservative radio talk show:
Ms. Mansour said that the cross hairs, in fact, were not meant to be an allusion to guns, and agreed with her interviewer’s reference to them as “surveyors symbols.” Aides to Ms. Palin did not respond to interview requests on Sunday.
Yet we already knew otherwise on Sunday, as a Talking Points Memo reader dug up a tweet purportedly written by Palin herself referring to the map symbols in explicitly gun-oriented terms. Palin or her designated tweeter wrote:
Remember months ago “bullseye” icon used 2 target the 20 Obamacare-lovin’ incumbent seats? We won 18 of 20 (90% success rate;T’aint bad)
And let’s not forget that those symbols turned red whenever one of the targeted Democrats went down — just like surveyors symbols, eh?
Few people are blaming Palin for the actions of Jared Lee Loughner, who has been charged with the Saturday shootings. Loughner appears to have been motivated by mental illness rather than politics. Still, Palin’s map was mind-blowingly irresponsible, as Giffords herself said some months ago. This should mark the end of Palin’s public career as anything other than a sideshow freak, much as Ann Coulter all but disappeared after she mocked 9/11 widows. Are the media really going to let Palin and her minions get away with this?
Traditional journalism is incredibly uncomfortable when given proof that someone is flat-out lying. But that’s no excuse for the Times’ ignoring the fact that there was already proof Mansour was lying — or, at best, was incredibly uninformed about her boss’ intentions.
One day in 1993, when I was managing editor of the Boston Phoenix, I received a letter from a man named David Taber, who claimed that the CIA and his father had conspired to implant a computer chip in his brain so they could monitor his thoughts. Such letters are not as unusual as you might suppose; what made this one stand out was that it was well-written enough that it took me a couple of pages to realize the writer was mentally ill.
Not long after that, Taber showed up at the Phoenix, looking for me, in order to discuss when we might publish his letter. I couldn’t be found, and didn’t know about his visit until after a colleague had talked him into leaving.
And then, within a few weeks, Taber walked into an elementary school in the Southeastern Massachusetts town of Acushnet, took hostages and murdered the school nurse.* Unfortunately, I had discarded his letter.
It’s because of that experience — and, frankly, because of common sense — that I’m put off by those who are trying to politicize yesterday’s carnage in Arizona, which included the attempted murder of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the murder of federal judge John Roll and a 9-year-old girl, Christina Green.
The suspected shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, appears to be very mentally ill. If you haven’t seen this video yet, take a look. I was especially struck by this Loughner statement: “I’m able to control every belief and religion by being the mind controller!” That kind of says it all, doesn’t it?
Now, by no means do I want to let anyone off the hook. I was appalled to learn that Giffords’ district was among those targeted on Sarah Palin’s truly demented gunsight map. I hope yesterday will bring the whole Palin phenomenon to a long-overdue end. And I scarcely know where to begin with this piece of incendiary garbage.
As Tucson Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said, careless rhetoric can have consequences. But that rhetoric did not create Jared Loughner. If he hadn’t gone after Congresswoman Giffords, he might have gunned down a school nurse instead.
*After posting this earlier today, I searched the Boston Globe’s archives and found a story published on April 17, 1993, that reported the details of Taber’s rampage in Acushnet. I’ve updated this post to include what I learned in that article.