It’s now a major secondary story in the Giffords shooting: who or what’s to blame for the carnage? It began almost as soon as the story broke, when fingers were pointed quite prominently even before anything was known about the shooter except that he was a young man, and that he had been taken into custody.
The anti-gun contingent sprang to action almost immediately, as did the anti-Palin faction and a particular loud-mouthed Democratic sheriff, in marked contrast to the pleas from the MSM and the left for verbal restraint in speculating about the motives of the Fort Hood killer.
Almost all the blaming in the Giffords shooting comes from the left against the right. And this despite the fact that Giffords, a Blue Dog Democrat, could just as likely have been a political target of either side, since she stands roughly in the middle.
It would be easier to judge the finger-pointers as impartial if they were equally incensed against rhetoric and images from the left as from the right. A display of evenhandedness would at least serve to establish some sort of arguable sincerity. For example, when campaigner Obama advised supporters to bring a gun to the fight if the opposition brought a knife, wouldn’t he have been to blame, too, for upping the ante?
Or do mere words lack the power to ignite acts such as Saturday’s shooting? (If one is to believe a friend of Loughner’s, the killer himself thought that “words mean nothing.”) And if mere words have no such power, what does?
I don’t pretend to have the answer to what motivates violence of this sort, except to say that it is highly unlikely to have a single cause. But common sense tells us that many if not most of such shooters are propelled by primarily private demons. Yes, they are not isolated from societal influences in general, and words of political rhetoric are part of that. But such words are hardly the only part, or even a major part.
Was this a politically motivated assassination, anyway? Giffords was indeed a political target, but she was hardly a major political figure. Politicians in general have a special visibility, something they share with celebrities (think John Lennon and Andy Warhol), and which can make them targets for the homicidal crazies among us, and not always for primarily political reasons.
Political assassins tend to be of two types: the first is the coldly calculating killer (or co-conspirators) motivated by a strategic move for power and/or a political vendetta, and the second is the lone crazy person. Some, such as Lee Harvey Oswald and Sarah Jane Moore (remember her?) inhabit territory somewhere between the two (they also happen to inhabit territory on the left, a fact most leftist commentators tend to conveniently forget).
The first group do have primarily political motivations, but they are highly unlikely to have been motivated or even affected at all by casually inflammatory rhetoric. Their provocations are of a deeper sort.
How often have this first sort of killer or killers been behind political assassinations in the United States? Well, it depends who you ask; Kennedy conspiracists are adamant that such plotters were behind Oswald, and if theories about the mob’s involvement in the 1933 Mayor Cermak slaying are true, that would be another example of a group effect. Lincoln’s assassination featured a number of Confederate sympathizers who worked together and planned to take over the government, as well.