Saturday morning, Jared Lee Loughner opened fire outside a Tucson supermarket where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was meeting with constituents. Loughner shot at least 18 people, killing 6, including Gabe Zimmerman, one of Giffords’ staffers, John M. Roll, a federal judge who happened to be there at the time, and 9 year-old Christina Taylor Green, who came to the event with a neighbor. Giffords, who was shot in the head, remains in intensive care. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) tabled the House’s agenda for the week, putting off a planned vote on the repeal of health care reform. And President Obama asked the nation to observe a moment of silence today at 11:00 a.m.
When my friends asked me if I planned to write about the attack, my initial response was no. The attack was terrible and tragic, but didn’t seem to me to say much about our national politics. It's true that the fact that a member of Congress was targeted in the performance of her duties made it an attack not only on the community but on the state itself. Giffords received threats and had her office vandalized after supporting health care reform. But while a series of videos Loughner had posted on YouTube suggested that the attack was at least in some sense politically motivated, they also make it clear that Loughner was more deranged than following any coherent political agenda.
But it wasn’t long before people began to see the attack as more evidence for their own political views. Liberals and conservatives each saw in Loughner’s ravings evidence that he was carried out his attack in the name of their opponents’ agenda—never mind that Loughner lists among his favorite books The Communist Manifesto, Mein Kampf, and Animal Farm, which range across the entire spectrum of political ideas hardly add up to a coherent political philosophy. Some saw the atack as a sign that it was too easy for a mentally ill person to get a gun. David Frum somehow managed to blame the attack on Loughner’s use of pot. Others pointed out that the uncomfortable fact Giffords was one of the representatives targeted with crosshairs for her vote on health care on a map released by Sarah Palin before the midterm election (Palin now implausibly claims that what looked like crosshairs were just “surveyor’s marks”).
Gun control and drug policy are important issues, but it’s dangerous to read too much into a single tragedy. While I generally agree with Kris Broughton that conservative politicians sometimes cross a line in calling liberal politicians “domestic enemies”—and wish Palin wouldn’t using hunting metaphors when talking about American citizens—it isn’t fair to suggest that Republican rhetoric was in any way responsible for Loughner’s attack. As important as it is for us to have a conversation about all these issues, for a little while at least I wish we would observe that moment of silence.