Lobdell: Who's to blame for Arizona shooting?

Can you imagine our congressmen — John Campbell and Dana Rohrabacher — surrounded by bodyguards each time they make a public appearance in Newport-Mesa?

Me neither.

With 435 representatives and 100 senators, that would be quite an army of bodyguards — and a waste of money.

But providing members of Congress with armed protection is among the flurry of ideas being floated in the wake of the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona on Saturday that left six dead and 14 wounded.

Playing out this week is a predictable storyline that seems to happen now every time a tragedy such as the Giffords shooting unfolds in America.

First, the shocking news is reported. Second, others — besides the shooter — are blamed for inciting the violence. And third, politicians rush in to try and fix it so this type of tragedy will never happen again.

Already by Saturday night, the blame game had begun in the media and on the Internet. Did former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin help push the shooter into action with her bull's-eye on the map of Giffords' congressional district and her admonition "Don't retreat, reload"?

What about all the vitriol on conservative talk radio that painted liberals such as Giffords as a danger to America? And even in political campaigns, aren't candidates and their backers using rhetoric so bitter that it could whip followers into a killing frenzy?

Stop it already.

In the Giffords shooting, the alleged gunman appears to be a mentally unhinged young man. He's to blame for the crimes and no one else. I don't buy that others are responsible for creating an environment that fostered the shooting. You've had murderous nutcases long before Palin and Rush Limbaugh.

Also, America hardly has a history of genial political discourse, going back to pre-Revolutionary days. The country's early newspapers called political foes "tools of a baboon," "frog-eating, man-eating, blood-drinking cannibals" and "a sort of flies, that naturally settle on the excremental and corrupted parts of the body politic."

In last fall's local city council elections, voters seemed shocked by dirty campaign tactics that smeared Newport Beach's conservative Rush Hill as a lackey for the police and firefighter unions and Costa Mesa's Jim Righeimer as a police-hating bully bent on reshaping the city in his image.

Old-timers can testify that these types of smears aren't new to Newport-Mesa politics, though I'd argue that the power of social media and the Internet to blunt these attacks provided a new, hopeful wrinkle in the campaigning.

The Giffords tragedy should be seen for what it was: an isolated incident, not the start of — or part of — a sickening trend. It's senseless to somehow try and prevent further attacks by throwing some kind of security blanket around our elected officials or by tightening up gun control laws, as some suggest. Wouldn't it be more effective to have the FBI and others step up intelligence operations that identify potential threats against our elected representatives?

Throughout U.S. history, a remarkably few, given the passion of politics, members of Congress have been attacked or killed. In 1868, a drunken Ku Klux Klan member shot an Arkansas representative in the back and killed him. Since then, four other Congress members, including Robert F. Kennedy, have been assassinated.

It's unnerving, for sure. Especially on the local level after watching the video of the suicidal gunman shooting at school board members in Florida. But statistically, it's virtually a non-issue. Local, state and federal politicians have a much better chance being struck by lightning — or, in Rohrabacher's case, being eaten by a shark during one of his surf sessions — than being gunned down by an assassin.

As a journalist, I've received a few death threats in my career. The first one scared the bejesus out of me. I picked up the phone in the Los Angeles Times' newsroom and a low, menacing voice said, "You better not take the same route home from work tonight. Someone is trying to get you."

But then I started thinking: How many reporters working in America have gotten rubbed out as a result of their work? It has happened in the distant past, but again, the odds were significantly better of me being killed in a car accident driving home than by an angry reader.

With that rational thought, my hands stopped shaking, but I did go home by another way (and, I might as well confess, I picked up the habit of checking my street for strange cars and occasionally glancing my rear-view mirror to make sure I wasn't being followed).

On Monday, I turned off the media coverage of the Giffords shooting, having grown tired of the blame being put on others and the handwringing over how to prevent these kind of things in the future.

But I understand the reasons behind the thinking. We all want to make sense of this tragedy, and we want to tell ourselves that it was preventable —if only we had more civil political discourse, if only we had security around our representatives, if only we had stricter gun laws, if only … This makes us feel safe and in control.

But here's the hard truth. Sometimes, evil happens.

WILLIAM LOBDELL, a former editor of the Daily Pilot and Los Angeles Times journalist, is a Costa Mesa resident and communications consultant. The column runs Tuesday and Friday. His e-mail is williamlobdell@gmail.com.

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