If You Declare War, Don’t Be Surprised When Someone Shoots

For years, we’ve been bombarded with claims that violent films and violent video games lead to violent behavior.  We’ve been urged to tone things down, slap ratings on them, think of the children, and plenty of other admonishments designed to prevent another Columbine.

Meanwhile, the political rhetoric has been ratcheted up to the point where it’s perfectly acceptable to talk about “Second Amendment solutions” to laws and lawmakers we don’t like.  Or to post a picture of targeted political districts with gun sights over them.  Or to talk fondly about the period of time when half the country violently opposed the other and got more US soldiers killed than any other war in history.  Or cavalierly hoist up signs with guns, or worse, hoist up actual guns, at political rallies.

Where were all the concerned admonishments then?  Where were the responsible voices asking that the consequences of such actions be considered?  “Oh, it’s just politics,” we were told.

Well, “just politics” got twenty people shot yesterday.  Six of them are dead.

I’m sure the debate over the next few days will be over the political leanings of the shooter, with both sides trying to paint him as a member of the lunatic fringe of the other so they can sit back, assured in the rightness of their positions, and say, “See, I told you so.”  But it’s looking more and more like the shooter can’t be labelled simply as a crazed liberal or a crazed conservative, but just plain crazed.  And unfortunately, a lot of effort is going to spent sorting that out, to little benefit.

Because, regardless of what side of the spectrum he leans towards (or may have in fact fallen off of), the climate that made his actions not only seem rational but even patriotic was fomented by one side of that spectrum.  The one that can’t simply see Obama as a president with whom they disagree, but as an enemy of America.  That can’t see the Democrats as worthy political opponents, but as demonized pillagers against whom a war must be waged.  One side has been so comfortable speaking of political campaigns as military campaigns, so easily slipping terms like “reload” and “take aim” into their speeches.

And it’s time for them to step back.

Now I’m not saying those people are responsible for what happened.  No one pulled the trigger yesterday but the shooter.  But they are responsible for creating the atmosphere that exists today where people are convinced we are at war with ourselves.  And you can’t constantly tell people we’re at war without someone thinking they have to defend themselves.  Or take the offensive.

But of course, those folks will shake their heads sadly, express their condolences and their shock at what happened, and most likely be back at it in a week or a month or however long they feel it’s appropriate to let this incident fade from people’s minds.  Some are already spinning this as a reflection of how deeply Obama has divided the country.  As if a nine-year old girl dying is some kind of inevitable reaction to giving people health care and raising taxes on the wealthiest.  Actions taken by a president and enacted by a Congress elected under the very provisions of the document these people claim to love so much and so vigorously defend.

This country should take up arms when our borders are threatened, when a great evil puts our very way of life in danger.  Not when a senator votes a way we don’t like, or when a doctor performs a legal procedure we don’t agree with, or when a president tries to help people we don’t think need or deserve that help.  We’re better than that.  We’ve come further than that.  And anyone who thinks it’s a good idea to appeal to our worse natures to gain political favor deserves neither the dignity of public office nor the respect of public opinion.

We all need to calm down.  We need to let impassioned yet reasoned words be the instruments of change.  The only things the incendiary rhetoric has changed are the lives of twenty families in Arizona.

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