Spritzophrenia

humour, music, life, sociology. friendly agnostic.

Gun Nuts and Peaceniks

Posted by spritzophrenia on January 9, 2011

Right now the major news in the USA is the tragic shooting attempt on an Arizona congresswoman. At the time of writing she is badly wounded, but 18 other people were also shot. Six are dead, including a nine year-old girl. I offer my condolences to my US friends; this is sad and wrong.

As an outside observer, I want to offer a few thoughts, partially based on the Twitter and Facebook commentary I’m seeing.

A Culture Of Blame

To me, it’s strange that many immediately jumped to a political motive. For example, a friend tweeted “I wish the sheriff would just name Rush and Beck and Fox News [as responsible].” Sure, Gabrielle Giffords, the target, is a politician. However it may be a little premature to jump in and reduce this to GOP vs Dems. As Lavika tweeted, “Many are choosing sides & using their vitriol to numb pain. Vitriol on behalf of ‘good’ is still vitriol, btw”. To me, the shooter looked a little mentally unstable on paper. This is not to say he wasn’t politically motivated, but there may be a lot more nuance to this story. Lavika also tweeted: “Mental health care, especially youth mental health, is very political; they have no voice, they can’t get care, but they can get guns.”

One commentator writes “We have no idea what motivated the shooter and whether it had anything to do with politics.”

man with pistol

Us and Them

Given the immediate politicization of this attack, I’m also continually amazed at the polarization in US politics. Either you are a Democrat or a Republican, there is no other choice. This leads to an “us and them”, “black and white”, “right and wrong” circling of the wagons that I believe is deeply unhelpful. How can political progress be made when the other side is always characterised as the enemy? In places like New Zealand, Australia, most of Europe… In fact, every other decent Western nation I can think of, there are multiple political parties. This leads to a) more nuance b) more choice and c) the need for co-operation between various political groups.

What if you are “left” on some issues, but “right” on others? In the US there is no party that fits you. Congresswoman Giffords, who was attacked, is a perfect example of exactly this. As a former republican, she characterises herself as a “blue dog” democrat. In other words, she had to make a hard choice as neither party truly represents her views. There aren’t any other political options.

Is This Terrorism?

SquintingInFog tweeted “Why is this not an act of terrorism? Apparently white people are lone wackos, brown people are terrorists”, and, “If shooter were Muslim, it would be called terrorism, even if he acted alone & was psychotic”.

My answer: If it was ideological, then yes, it’s terrorism. Welcome to another “terrorist attack” by a non-Muslim US man, born and bred within Uncle Sam’s bosom.

We Have A Right To Kill

I’m writing this in a country where hunting is popular. We have a lot of guns here in New Zealand. But we don’t allow handguns (except for target shooting, a minority pastime). We certainly don’t allow people to carry them around in public. Even our police do not carry weapons on their person. So to hear about a “right to bear arms” frankly sounds bizarre to us. It sounds as silly as “the right to buy cars” or the “right to chew gum”. (Don’t laugh, gum is banned in Singapore.) Yes, we are legally allowed to buy hunting guns in New Zealand. And that’s how I’d prefer to phrase it. Maybe the USA would benefit from leaving the word “right” out of the equation? The word “right” gives the purchase and use of an item a moral gravity that I just don’t think is warranted. It makes carrying a gun seem somehow holy, instead of fearful and potentially lethal. I can’t compare the right to own a killing weapon with the right to life or the right not to live in poverty. (I’d like to hear more about the right to a fair wage, having just read Nickel and Dimed.) At least I’m not the only one to see a need for handgun control.

Hope

Turning from the killing in the USA, I want the whole world to know about the peace activism in Egypt— by Muslims, no less. Regular followers will know I write from time to time trying to understand Islam and its relation to the West. Egypt has recently had some horrible attacks on Christian churches. What is wonderful is this story of a Muslim initiative where Muslims attended christian churches in order to shield christians against extremists.

I have no idea how we would “shield” minorities in our countries from attack. But isn’t it a wonderful thing to consider? Perhaps a cadre of straight people could walk with gay people seeking marriage equality. Or upper middle-class people could walk with Wal-Mart staff seeking to establish a union. Any ideas?

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34 Responses to “Gun Nuts and Peaceniks”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Victoria Cochran, Victoria Cochran, Rachel, Jenna, Laura Novak and others. Laura Novak said: RT @JonathanElliot: Some thoughts about the Giffords assassination http://bit.ly/hIcViA @Halibutron @argylestyle @tllanes […]

  2. Bravo. I liked connection you made re: terminology “right” and undue moral gravity. The way the rhetoric shifts a safety issue into the moral zone is something I hadn’t thought about.

    Our city having recently been chosen a contestant in Walmart’s “Gladiators of Poverty” PR event, I’m eyeballing that last suggestion with more than just a sense of humor. Very good.

    • “The way the rhetoric shifts a safety issue into the moral zone”. I hadn’t thought of it as a safety issue, thanks for bringing this up.

      My last suggestion wasn’t meant to be humorous πŸ™‚ If it’s taken as such, maybe it shows how… um… differently US people think? Based on [limited info], it seems to me that many ground floor Wal-Mart workers are below the poverty line.

      Thanks for commenting πŸ™‚

  3. Grace said

    I think there’s a distinction between using this tragedy to score points against one party or the other and pointing out the very real political context for the shooting. The nature of the shooting makes it inherently political; an elected official was targeted at a public political event. When you add in the fact that Giffords was repeatedly targeted with violent rhetoric from various corners, that makes the political climate even more relevant. It’s not about the motives or political affiliation of the shooter. It’s about language that put out the idea of literally “targeting” Giffords in the first place. The people who used that language need to be called to task, especially since many people raised concerns about the potential effects of such language, and were dismissed and mocked for doing so. The nature of the shooting demands a national conversation about when political rhetoric goes too far. I think we can have that conversation without it necessarily being partisan.

    And because of the weird relationship Americans have to guns, as you point out, a discussion about gun control is also inherently political :/ Unfortunately.

    • I suppose I didn’t want to see this event as being “merely” political. I think you are right that we don’t take the other extreme of ignoring the political.

      I too am concerned about political language going too far. Have you any suggestions as to what boundaries we need?

      Thanks, Grace πŸ™‚

      • watergirl21 said

        I agree with Grace that some calling out needs to be done, you cannot throw around words like “target” and “reload” in a political atmosphere, get people angry and riled up, than scrub your media pages when someone goes to far. That being said, while I despise Palin on many levels,the only thing she is solidly guilty of is being a backwoods motormouth, and retreating when the heat got turned up. She did not pull the trigger, and it has not been proved her rhetoric incited the gunman.I don’t feel there is any place in politics for ramblings like hers, but she is protected by the first amendment. and as long as the media keeps covering her every move, she will continue to spew brimstone.
        Hopefully a lesson will be learned, but most likely not.

  4. dogcicle said

    Thanks for showing America to Americans through a different lens. I hope today is a turning point in our history. I do not feel anger but a horrible sadness that these people died and a young man threw his life away at the age of 22. We have to work something out in our political system or todays event will be eclipsed by more terrible things and the fabric of our nation will be unrepairable.

  5. watergirl21 said

    You truly have an insight into Americans that i wish many Americans could grasp. I consider myself a liberal progressive, but float in that gray haze in some areas in a way that my opinion is notwelcome by either side. One of those areas is the gun issue. I would never cast a vote based on where a candidate stands on it. There a far more important issues to me.I didn’t grow up around guns but I did marry into them. My husband is law enforcement and a hunter and therefore a gun owner. We have had many arguments on the topic. My gray area is that I do understand his “right” to protect his family, but that shouldn’t mean that any yahoo should be able to so easily buy a gun. I have fired every gun in our house, I respect them, and I do not fear them. I do fear people who don’t respect the weapon, or don’t have the mental capacity to carry one responsibly.Mature gun owners do not need to scream about their rights, or join political groups to protect those rights, or make “reload” references I equate this to high school pandering for popularity. I view gun ownership as a privileged not a right, therefore I feel acquiring them should be harder, and the laws stricter. The shooting in Arizona is tragic. I hate to see the focus taken off the precious lives and put on the gun issue. Yes, guns are dangerous, but the mind that controls the hand that holds the gun is so much more….

    • I certainly don’t want to forget the lives that were lost. It’s tragic, and sad, and many other adjectives.

      At the same time, once the grief is gone, I want to try and understand, and (if possible) help to prevent it happening again. I realise that gun ownership is a huge thing in the USA (again, a very weird thing to most other countries where gun ownership is both legal and a non-issue). The way I see it, we can’t stop weirdos acquiring guns. We can only make guns harder to obtain, and promote a culture of no gun use. Why would someone need a handgun? Unlike hunting guns (rifles) they have no purpose except to kill people.

      I may be wrong, I realise I’m stepping into an area that has huge rhetoric around it in the USA.

      Thanks Watergirl, your comment is much appreciated πŸ™‚

      • watergirl21 said

        Unfortunately, (and i may be stoned by some Americans for this)but we are a country of entitled, selfish demanding people. We insist on our “right” to own guns,to drive gas guzzling cars, to acquire & use up natural resources at will and without replacement. War is king, and capitalism rules the day.I would love to see a time in the U.S. when we are more concerned with feeding children than keeping our guns. When I look at other countries, especially ones like NZ, Australia and Scandinavia, it makes me sad that we cannot get our priorities in line like that.
        A lot of gun owners I know, tote the need to protect themselves. Is it possible that people in other countries just feel safer? Do other countries have the fear of home invasion, high rape and murder rates that we do? Or again, is the climate as a whole in other countries safer and not as paranoid. I apologize for sounding so unAmerican, I am patriotic, I just shake me head in disbelief sometimes that we are considered a world leader but we are so backwards compared to other countries.

        • Anne said

          Watergirl21, you don’t sound unpatriotic (I say that as an American). The problem of patriotism as I see it is when it’s defined as not questioning what it means to be loyal to your country. Is it, for instance, disloyal to be more concerned with people’s rights not to be shot, than with people’s rights to bear arms?

        • watergirl21 said

          Good point Anne. I suppose I can define my patriotism with the fact that I refuse to simply be proud of my country as-is when I know we can do better for our people. And there are so many things we can fight for before guns. Gun ownership should be a privilege not a right. IMHO

  6. Chris said

    I lived in NZ during the 2005 elections, and I was quite shocked at how similar campaigning was to the US. Of course it was on a much smaller scale considering the population of NZ is equivalent to just 3 bouroughs of NYC. You have the National Party like our Republicans, and Labour like our Democrats, NZ First like our conservatives, and the Greens, like our Liberals. Althought you guys confused me by switching the red and blue colors πŸ™‚

    I have more to say on your other points, but it’s 4:20am here, and I have a crying baby in one arm. I hope to return later in the day to continue this conversation.
    Something interesting to think about, since WW2, anytime the US was involved in setting up a new Gov(japan, Germany, Iraq), we chose to institute your parliamentary system rather than our republic model.

    Chris
    Lake Havasu City, AZ

    • Hey, thanks Chris. Maybe I am blind to the faults of my own country (likely). However, once elections are over things seem to settle down here, whereas you are branded for life in the USA, it seems.

      Great point about what parliamentary models the US endorses elsewhere.

      Thanks πŸ™‚

  7. Hi Spritz πŸ™‚

    I also immediately thought it was politically motivated. On the gun issue: wish they would have same restrictions as elsewhere, sadly it doesn’t look like that will happen any time soon.
    Having said that; if a mentally unstable person decides to go on a killing spree, what weapon would that person choose if a gun was not available ? A knife? Explosives tied to his body ?
    Also, lets look at what the sheriff had to say about this tragic incident:

    [quote]
    The sheriff blamed the vitriolic political rhetoric that has consumed the country, much of it occurring in Arizona. “When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous,” he said.

    “And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.” Giffords expressed similar concern before the shooting. In an interview after her office was vandalized, she referred to the animosity against her by conservatives, including former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s decision to list Giffords’ seat as one of the top “targets” in the November midterm elections.

    “For example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action,” Giffords said in an interview with MSNBC.

    In the hours after the shooting, Palin issued a statement in which she expressed her “sincere condolences” to the family of Giffords and the other victims.

    During his campaign effort to unseat Giffords in November, Republican challenger Jesse Kelly held fundraisers where he urged supporters to help remove Giffords from office by joining him to shoot a fully loaded M-16 rifle. Kelly is a former Marine who served in Iraq and was pictured on his website in military gear holding his automatic weapon and promoting the event.
    [/unquote]

    • Thanks Karen.

      Yes, that Sherrif was very popular. For sure, mentally unbalanced people have to get their weird views from somewhere. (Sometimes it’s the Bible, gulp!)

  8. Felyne said

    You are absolutely correct with the “Us and Them” mentality – it absolutely breaks my heart that a country as great as America is ripping itself apart internally over something as catty as politics. I won’t talk politics to anyone because as soon as you even hint at whether you agree or disagree with Obama, you’ve been labelled and strong judgement made against you. It’s completely disappointing for a country of citizens that should know better.

    Unfortunately the problem is this: media. I was going to write “the trouble with the left is they believe everything their media tells them, which is exactly what their politicians want”. But that goes for the right too. It’s the old scene of the guy telling the big dumb oaf “hey, that other guy said something about your mother…” to get him onside/offside. Sarah Palin has to be the epitome of this. And Goebbels would be very impressed.

    And this leads me to gun control. Bearing in mind what I’ve just said about the media, the original intent of the 2nd Amendment was defense. Every American has the right to defend himself and his nation. It’s not the right to carry a weapon for whatever purpose he deems fit, it’s the right to carry a weapon to defend himself and his country. So when you say to someone who is patriotic about this country – we’re gonna take away your gun – they don’t see it as not being able to kill – they see it as you removing their means of defending themselves. Your seeing it as “A Right To Kill” greatly reflects the media’s influence that there are hordes of irresponsible bloodthirsty rednecks just looking for a valid reason to whip out a shotgun and blow you away. There are several people around me who exercise this right, and it took me quite a long time to come to terms with it – but having said that there have been a couple occasions when I’ve found myself glad they were beside me able to protect me if it the situation arose. It’s not bloodthirsty desires to kill – it’s talking softly but carrying a big stick.

    • Cristine said

      I read this after my response and yes, exactly what you said! on all of it

    • Sure, I understand the context of the second amendment. There are also those who say that it was fine for a “wild west” time back in the past before there were effective police or armies. They suggest that maybe it’s not necessary now.

      I still say the language of “it’s my right” gives gun ownership a far stronger rhetoric than if people said “I’m allowed to own a gun”.

      Interesting that you and Cristine (both US residents) resonate with my “Us and Them” comments.

      Thanks! πŸ™‚

  9. Felyne said

    Oh and let’s talk gun deaths. How many people are killed a year by guns (and remember those statistics include gang related deaths) and how many people are killed a year by drunk drivers. What’s your bigger problem America?

    • Cristine said

      while drunk driving is a serious and horrific problem, I am not sure how it relates to guns?? Just because here is a “bigger” problem doesn’t mean this problem doesn’t exist.

    • I think a better way of looking at it is to look at the percentage of people killed by guns. It’s far higher in the USA than any other Western nation. And it’s not because the US has more guns, Canada for example has a similar ratio of guns to population but far fewer gun deaths. I’m not a fan of all Michael Moore does, but “Bowling for Columbine” is worth seeing for commentary on this.

    • Felyne said

      My intention with that comment was to highlight that no emphasis is placed on the problem of drunk driving (in NZ there are graphic campaigns against it but here it’s pretty much accepted as something you do – to the point there are DUI lawyer adverts on public buses) yet it has a much greater affect on the population. Again, media. Guns are controversial and provoke argument so that gets the headline.

      I’ve seen Bowling for Columbine and I have a question for you, do you believe everything he’s telling you? Why is that? Remember that you can make statistics prove anything you want. πŸ™‚

      • Cristine said

        o! here, where I live (Detroit Michigan), there are numerous graphic anti drunk driving campaigns. and it isn’t accepted as something you do! at least, in my social circle..maybe is different for other people..but yes, it is a big problem, as are guns as is texting and driving, as is smoking..etc, etc

        I have watched some of Michael Moore’s documentaries (his first one was on Michigan-Roger and Me) and while he makes some good points, he exaggerates to such a point that it is hard for me to take him seriously :/

      • I don’t believe everything he says, in fact there is some egregious editing in that film that borders on deception. Nevertheless, I thought it was interesting that his main point (to me) was that America has a culture of fear, rather than the problem being the guns themselves.

        His “capitalism” film I thought was kinda boring.

      • Oh, as a comparison, I wonder what we’d think if people started talking about their “constitutional right to drink”? I think it would start to sound silly after a while. This is why I think removing the language of “rights” from the discussion might be helpful.

  10. watergirl95 said

    Excellent points Felyne. Very very well said.

  11. Cristine said

    the “us” vs “them” mentality breaks my heart also. I can not even talk politics on facebook because there isn’t intellectual discussion, it is simply attack on both sides. I am liberal on some issues and conservative on others and there is no place for me in my own country’s political process. I am not liberal enough for Democrats nor conservative enough for Republicans.

    What is accomplished by all of the blaming and name calling? We are such a divided country and the media only fuels the fire on both sides.

    • Thanks Cristine

    • Felyne said

      “and the media only fuels the fire on both sides.” You said it exactly. America is in a propaganda war with itself and the saddest part is it cannot see it. American people need to stop believing everything their media tells them and start finding out the facts for themselves and drawing their own objective conclusion. It’s classic propaganda – they are only going to tell you what they want you to know.

      • Cristine said

        Too many people get all of their news from one source. I have so many friends who think Glen Beck is the definitive answer on everything. And not that I am against listening to Glen Beck (or whoever) but like you said, people need to find out the facts for themselves and draw their own conclusions. I like factcheck.org as a good place to get started.

  12. SugarPop said

    Like, like, like, like, like! Great piece and follow up commentary. Nothing further to add πŸ™‚

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