Goldberg: The politicization of violence

Crime, Law and JusticeLaws and LegislationHomicideHate CrimesPersonal Weapon ControlInterior PolicyPolitics

If it hasn't completely vanished down the memory hole, you might recall that last week a man walked into the headquarters of the conservative Family Research Council with a backpack of Chick-fil-A sandwiches and bullets, said something like "I don't like your politics" and then shot the security guard.

The suspect, Floyd Lee Corkins (what is with would-be assassins and the three-part names?), had volunteered at a gay community center.

"Today's attack is the clearest sign we've seen that labeling pro-marriage groups as 'hateful' must end," proclaimed the head of the National Organization for Marriage, Brian Brown.

It's certainly true that outfits like the Southern Poverty Law Center have carved out a great racket for themselves as the media-approved arbiter of what and who counts as a purveyor of "hate" these days.

According to Talking Points Memo, when asked whether a Republican speaking at the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit was making the "same choice as one who addressed an Aryan Nation rally," Heidi Beirich, the law center's research director, responded, "Yeah. What we're saying is these [anti-gay] groups perpetrate hate — just like those [racist] organizations do."

So, President Obama's previous position on gay marriage amounted to hate-mongering? Good to know! In the aftermath of the Family Research Council shooting, Tony Perkins, the group's president, said that Corkins had been "given a license to shoot" the unarmed security guard by those who labeled the council a "hate group."

So accusing an organization of committing hate crimes that can lead to violence is itself a hate crime that will lead to violence.

To his credit, Perkins does not want Corkins prosecuted for a hate crime. He wants him prosecuted for his more obvious crimes.

Two weeks ago, there was a mass killing at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin by a purported neo-Nazi. The aftermath of that was more typical, with partisans claiming vindication for Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, whose agency released a report in 2009 about extremist views, warning that "disgruntled veterans" could become domestic terrorists. The shooting suspect had served in the military.

Before that there was the "Dark Knight" shooter in Aurora, Colo., who some early news stories erroneously tried to link to the tea party movement.

And before that there was the guy who shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed several others in Tucson. Contrary to a lot of hype, he wasn't a tea party guy either. He is a psychotic.

Indeed, it seems like there have been a lot of mass shootings in recent years. But appearances can be deceiving.

While mass shootings rose between the 1960s and the 1990s, they actually dropped in the 2000s. And mass killings actually reached their peak in 1929, according to data compiled by Grant Duwe of the Minnesota Department of Corrections. Also, the most common mass murderers kill their own families and acquaintances, not strangers. Either way, such events remain rare in the U.S. All things being equal, the odds of your being killed in a mass shooting are probably no greater than your being struck by lightning.

Moreover, according to experts, the frequency of such tragedies has virtually no significant correlation with what happens in the popular culture, politics or even with gun laws. As James Allen Fox, one of America's leading criminologists, wrote after the Tucson shooting, "Although upgrading the level of political discourse may be much needed and changes in gun laws (whether stricter or more permissive) may be argued, these steps will likely not make a shred of difference in term of the incidence of mass murder."

Floyd Lee Corkins is almost a statistical unicorn in that he (allegedly) made it clear he was politically motivated.

I don't really buy the claim that the political climate has gotten so much worse. But even if it has, that hasn't led to more political violence. Rather, it has led to the politicization of violence. That shouldn't be surprising, given that it's led to the politicization of pretty much everything else as well.

jgoldberg@latimescolumnists.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Comments
Loading