So, once again, shots ring out, people are wounded and killed, and like falling dominoes, within hours, the usual events play out in the media and on the Intertubes.
The loony left in the media (i.e., most of them) blames “right-wing” haters, the Tea Party, and particularly Sarah Palin (as though no one else has ever used a cross-hair list in a political campaign). The “right” points out that the left was angry at her for voting against Queen Nancy last week. The Brady bunch can’t wait to wallow in the still-warm blood to demand that the citizenry be disarmed. Fans of Jonah Goldberg will point out that the shooter’s choice of reading material, including both Mein Kampf and The Communist Manifesto, is in no way incongruent, and, as with Timothy McVeigh, many will declare him a Christian (with an implication that this explains his acts) in the face of not only no evidence, but in the face of counterevidence.
As usual, the event will be used as an excuse for everyone to saddle up their political hobby horses. In the coming days, we can count on renewed demands to do things that either wouldn’t have prevented this, or would so restrict our freedom and way of life as to have allowed this particular terrorist to win. The gun grabbers will demand that the guns be grabbed. There will be proposals for armed guards at all political events and for all politicians who ever have the temerity to go out in public. There will be calls for policing the Internet and talk radio to prevent the “hate speech” that allegedly caused it (though only “right-wing” hate speech, of course). We’ve been through all of this before.
But suppose that, instead of being hit by a bullet, Representative Giffords had been struck by a rock falling from space. It does happen occasionally, after all. And you know what? It happens about as often as an American politician is shot by a crazy person.
But that wouldn’t be anywhere near as interesting, because anyone who proposed that politicians never again have public meetings outdoors, or that a crash project be undertaken to sweep the sky clean of meteoroids to make sure that one was never again hit by one, wouldn’t be taken seriously, or have op-eds published, or bills introduced to implement their ideas. They would instead be treated as the lunatics they would be. People with any sense would understand that life carries risk and uncertainties, and that we have to accept them, and get on with it in the face of them.
This is no different. People get randomly struck by lightning, and sometimes there are storms and lightning strikes in human minds, setting off events that are impossible to either predict or prevent. Just as we have to accept that sometimes rocks fall from the sky, or that sometimes a politician can keel over without warning from a previously undiagnosed heart condition, we also have to accept that in a free society, occasionally someone will snap, pick up a weapon, and use it. Though it is still early, that is what appears to have happened in this case.
Restricting our speech probably wouldn’t have prevented this tragedy (and unlike, say, 9/11, which was an act of war, it truly is a tragedy), but it would make us a much less free society. Restricting guns wouldn’t have prevented this, because gun restrictions generally only affect the law abiding, not those determined to get them to murder, and again, would only have resulted in our being much less free, not just to speak our minds, but to defend our very lives. In fact, given Representative Giffords’ own strong record as a gun owner and supporter of their rights, it would be ironic indeed if this event were used as an excuse to further restrict them.
Armed guards at the event might have lessened the impact, but unless they act like the president’s Secret Service, and screen all attendees and people who get within sniper range, they probably wouldn’t have prevented it, either. And forget about the financial cost of such measures — what would be the cost of that to our civic culture, in which the people expect to regularly engage their representatives in the town halls? No doubt many of the craven politicians who avoided angry Tea Partiers for the past two years would like such restrictions, but the rest of us shouldn’t.
No, the solution to this problem is to recognize that there is no solution to this problem, at least one acceptable to Americans, and to be thankful that with the millions of guns in the land, it happens so seldom. That’s what makes it news, unlike (say) Mexico, where the assassination of a politician in the drug wars is hardly worthy of mention any more. Like the rest of us, our politicians and public officials aren’t immortal, and there is no safety this side of the dirt. While I’ve had my differences with her on space policy, from what I know of Gabrielle Giffords, when she gets well, I suspect that she’s going to go out to the next town meeting, worrying no more about a repeat occurrence than she does about a meteorite strike. And that’s what the rest of us, who aren’t prone to use every tragic event to shove our political agendas down other peoples throats, should do as well.