Shootings in Alexandria and San Francisco as symptoms of our political health

Two shootings today (14 June 2017) have filled the attention of the nation, one in San Francisco that resulted in three people killed in addition to the shooter killing himself at a UPS facility and the other an attack on Republican members of Congress and their staff at a baseball field in Alexandria, VA in which five were wounded and the shooter was put down by Capitol Police. Both once again raise the subject of guns in America, along with the state of political affairs in the country and the difference in status between our politicians and ordinary citizens.

On that latter point, consider what happened in the two incidents. In California, three were murdered, and the shooter only relieved the world of his existence when the police arrived, while in Virginia, only the shooter died, thanks to the action of Rep. Steve Scalise’s security detail who were present at the baseball practice, provided to him as a member of the Republican leadership. In both cases, armed good people caused the end of the attack, and having them on the scene accomplished that quicker.

Can we provide a security detail to every American, some 320,000,000 people? In once way, no, in a world of limited resources, we have to focus the work of law enforcement where the larger number of threats are directed. And to provide everyone protection would require everyone to be armed guards.

And yet, in theory, that is exactly what we could do. At least we could give everyone the choice to participate in the security of us all. Which is to say, we could respect the right of Americans to choose to carry firearms. Being unarmed wouldn’t mean that anyone deserves to be shot, but if we respected rights, we’d open the possibility to those people who want it to have effective tools with them to stop an attack if one begins.

In that regard, California is particularly bad for the rights of its residents. And every election and legislative session, seemingly, things get worse. Magazines that hold more than ten rounds are now illegal, semiautomatic rifles must be turned into Rube Goldberg devices to avoid being called “assault weapons,” and in many counties, concealed carry licenses are issued only to people the sheriff likes — has been bribed by. And those gun laws once again did nothing in San Francisco.

But the larger question is regarding the nature of our political rhetoric, as the Alexandria shooting illustrates. The shooter attacked Republican members of Congress and their staff because of their party affiliation. The Charleston shooter killed members of a church because of their race. The Oklahoma City bomber blew up a federal building, ending the lives of many, including children, on the belief that the government had killed people, including children, in the Waco siege. And we had a civil war over political differences. We are in the least violent period in our history as a nation, no matter what the perception is, but we do need to repeat until it’s accepted that holding a different ideology is a natural part of a free society.

One example of that are the points that some are trying to make out of the fact that the Alexandria shooter was at some point a volunteer for the Bernie Sanders campaign. I’ll say here what I’ve said elsewhere — Sanders is no more responsible for this shooting than Sarah Palin was for the Tucson shooting. Political language is not to blame for the actions of pathetic losers. To say otherwise is to diffuse the genuine guilt.

That guilt directly lies with the shooters, of course. But we also have created a nation in which some have extraordinary wealth and power — but I repeat myself — while millions struggle to survive. As long as that is the case, we will continue to have people who reach the point of desperation in their lives that killing others so that they will be killed in the view of the media appears to them to be the only achievement left to them.

And that is a condition that we cannot tolerate. The failed answers that have been raised yet again — one or another variation of gun control — are busywork to avoid real solutions: bringing down the disparity between the richest and the poorest, making mental healthcare and healthcare generally available to everyone, and showing that we really do respect the rights of all.

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