The blame game started Saturday within hours after reports of the Gabrielle Giffords assassination attempt in Tucson. The left correctly blamed the right for all the hate speech and political vitriol that may have fed the madness of accused murdered Jared Loughner. The right defensively played the moral equivalency card much like a bunch grade schoolers on the play ground, whining that while they got caught name calling, the other kids were doing it too.
What the right and left have done may be the same thing but was done at different times. In the late 1960's the left was almost as bad then as the right is now. I say almost because the left’s political leadership wasn’t behaving as badly back then as the right’s political leadership is right now. The Left’s extremist talk and actions some four decades back helped swing the nation to center right. My sense is that the right's extremism will surely move the pendulum back.
But while talking about bad talk is satisfying, we need to talk more about the pink elephant in the room: gun control.
A mentally ill, hate-filled 22-year-old armed with a butcher knife may have killed and maimed, but his toll would have been a lot less than six dead and 20 wounded. Here's a column I wrote four and a half years ago for the Chicago Sun-Times. It's painfully personal.
We're killing ourselves more effectively than terrorists
July 30, 2006
by Monroe Anderson
My kid brother, Dariek, gave me the only handgun I've ever owned: a target gray, stainless steel .357 Magnum. This gun was the not-so- little cousin to the .44 that co-starred in "Sudden Impact," when Clint Eastwood, as "Dirty Harry," told a bad guy: "Go ahead, make my day."
The weapon came into my possession right after Dariek had a bad night. Voices from his stereo speakers had kept him awake, talking to him, telling him to blow his girlfriend's brains out. He had fought valiantly to ignore the voices but feared the next time he heard them he might not be as strong.
"Are you taking your medicine?" I asked.
"No," he grunted. "I stopped taking it. That stuff is poison."
"You've got to take your medicine," I said, worried but grateful he had managed not to become another statistic in one more tragic news story.
Back in 1977, Dariek dropped out of Indiana University to be all that he could be in the Army. About a year and a half into his tour of duty, he was yanked out of the American nuclear missile silo he was guarding in Germany after he suddenly suffered a mental breakdown. He was flown to an Army hospital in New York where he was diagnosed as schizophrenic, then given a medical discharge.
By the time the voices in the stereo speakers were telling Dariek to shoot to kill, he had been in and out of the hospital and on and off medications designed to treat his delusions of grandeur, paranoia and schizophrenia several times. His nervous condition, as my mother always referred to it, had proved not to be a barrier to legally buying the .357 from an Indiana gun shop.
"I need to borrow the gun," I said, with all the authority a brother 11 years older can wield.
"Why?" he asked, distracted from repeating his descriptions of what the speaker voices had to say.
Knowing that Dariek kept up with the news daily and that there was yet another Lincoln Park rapist running loose, I told him we needed it so that my wife, Joyce, could carry it for protection. He understood. The next day, I drove to my parents' home in Gary, where he handed over the gun and the Indiana gun permit.
I recalled that unsettling episode last week as reports of sniper fire in Indiana hit newspaper headlines and broadcast news. Zachariah Blanton, 17, confessed to the series of Downstate Indiana highway shootings that killed one man, wounded another and left four vehicles shot up. He allegedly went on a shooting rampage after arguing with family members over gutting a deer during a hunting trip. Two days later, after the alleged Blanton sniping, a copycat sniper was reportedly taking potshots at vehicles in Northwest Indiana.
Gunplay in our nation is almost as much a national pastime as baseball. And, with the never-ending, inadequately controlled abundant supply of firearms, we're killing ourselves more effectively than any terrorist organization could. In 2003, the most recent year that data is available, there were 30,136 gun deaths in the United States. Forty percent were homicides; 56 percent were suicides.
When the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, stating that "a well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed," was ratified in 1791, the good citizens were worried about the Indians successfully stopping the theft of their land and the African slaves rebelling, violently reclaiming their freedom. Those are all dead issues now. And yet, even as tens of thousands of Americans die year in and year out from firearms, conservatives carp and babble about Second Amendment rights whenever any lifesaving gun control proposal rears its logical head. As the National Rifle Association likes to sloganeer, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people."
But had the angry Indiana teenager bore stones instead of a firearm, he'd be charged with vandalism, not murder.