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Chasing Down The Muse: America needs to stop shooting from the lip

The shooting this week of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords stunned our nation. For a few moments, no one was able to point fingers or abdicate responsibility. Everyone stood together in grief.

Here is a highly respected and educated woman, a Democrat elected by her constituency to guide southern Arizona. She is considered one of the most centrist legislators in Congress, and is a strong supporter of fiscal responsibility, bipartisanship and government accountability. She has introduced legislations designed to hamper and curtail drug trafficking, immigration reform, and stronger border protection. She also chairs the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee.

Rep. Giffords was allegedly shot in the head at point blank range by a 22-year-old, Jared Lee Loughner, currently described as mentally ill and deranged. In the course of his alleged assassination attempt on Giffords, Loughner's bullets allegedly took the lives of Judge John M. Roll, Christina Taylor Green, Dorothy Morris, Phyllis Schneck, Gabe Zimmerman and Dorwan Stoddard. He injured 14 others as he sprayed bullets onto the crowd gathered to hear Giffords speak.

After his arrest, the shooter had nothing to say. Earlier in the day he had reportedly posted a "goodbye" note on his Facebook page.

"I'm saddened with the current currency and job employment," he allegedly wrote, and also allegedly posted a close-up picture of a handgun sitting atop a document titled "United States History," on his MySpace page.

Without a clear-cut motive, the media floundered in an attempt to create a cause, a reason for so heinous a crime. They sought connections between the alleged shooter and any fringe movement or cause they could uncover. Desperate to craft a thread of logic to the senseless shootings, they grabbed at racist motives, immigration backlash, possibly Giffords' stance on gun control.

When Giffords first ran for Congress in 2006, she named two priorities: sensible gun control and public health care for the mentally fragile. The irony is palpable.

Gun control immediately superseded all other conversations. It is like the Holy Grail to those who most cherish their weapons. The Constitution guarantees all U.S. citizens (except for felons who have given up that right) the right to bear arms. But at what cost?

Tired rhetoric again rang out, "Guns don't kill people — people kill people." Except in this case, and in every other handgun death, it doesn't much matter who held it, it was a gun, not a bow and arrow, that killed six people.

In one breath, the founding fathers were spot-on. Without arms, how could we have fought the Revolution or chased off the British? How could we secure our homes?

But in another breath, who besides a criminal or violent killer needs a semiautomatic anything? Hardly the weapon of choice for shooting animals. Or does that just beg the question, how about a rocket launcher? A flame thrower? Or a few hand grenades?

What is rarely spoken, but underlies nearly every gun fanatic, is how do we protect ourselves from our own government without the right to bear arms?

Fear still runs us. Once the gun issue was on the table and legislators were screaming from all corners for the next round of reform, fingers began to point at the current level of inflammatory discourse masked as political posturing as the cause of the Tucson shootings.

Accusations have run to the absurd. Rush Limbaugh was quoted as saying that, "the Democrats had purposefully orchestrated a mass murder for their own political benefit." He continued, "Now the government will take away your guns, along with as many political freedoms as they can manage."

Sarah Palin, who seems to enjoy using language to pit the right against the left, found herself in the midst of her own crosshairs. A poster created by her PAC during the last campaign showed a map of 20 Democrats under images used in aiming a rifle. Rep. Giffords was one of those who was targeted for political elimination.

After four days of silence, Palin finally released a response video, titled "America's Enduring Strength." Rather than assume any responsibility for her own behavior, she turned on the media, claiming that they were irresponsible, and had set loose poisonous "blood libel." It is this same media that she uses as often as possible to her own advantage.

Did the current level of political posturing contribute to the shootings? Do inflammatory remarks — the pitting of one side against the other — create a climate of potential violence? Have we forgotten how to dialog? Have we forgotten that democracy is not an oligarchy, but the broad sweeping voice of all Americans?

Am I to be scorned and hated because you disagree with my ideas? Should I find you despicable because you think differently than I do?

It's impossible to deny that the more we are exposed to violence in language, images, video, sound and in person, the more inured we become to it, the greater levels we are able to tolerate.

In the end, Giffords was shot because one man apparently decided that it was what he wanted to do. He walked into a store and purchased a gun and some ammunition. He took a bus, walked into a crowd and allegedly started shooting. Nothing has changed that opportunity.

Catharine Cooper dreams about intelligent decisions, a world that cannot be bought, and is a gentler place to live. She can be reached at ccooper@cooperdesign.net.

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