|Tucsonans are grieved by the loss of family, friends, and neighbors, and shaken by the reminder of mortality. Standing in line to greet their congresswoman, or just going to the grocery store, they could be killed by a malcontent. They are not immune from the violence that is rampant in the world, bringing sudden death from bombs, incendiary devices, missiles, gunfire, or other means.
If the incident involves a gun, it will of course be used as another crisis to justify limiting Americans’ right to self defense or free speech. Those who seek to disarm or gag Americans could try to recruit provocateurs to incite violence and trigger a government reaction. Or they could just wait for an incident.
Two of Tucson’s victims were important public officials: a congresswoman and a judge. Many people know them and will immediately feel the effects of their loss, so unsurprisingly the press will focus attention on them. But the most truly newsworthy features of the story are what did not happen here.
There was no riot. There were, to be sure, some 20 victims and 6 deaths, but not dozens. No one bled to death while people cowered and waited for a SWAT team from the sky. The agony did not go on for hours or days, but was ended quickly.
Aside from the names of the fallen, the names that should be remembered are those of the citizens who acted as Americans should, to protect and help themselves and their neighbors in the event of danger. Roger Salzgeber and 74-year-old retired Army National Guard Colonel Bill Badger, who was slightly injured, tackled the shooter. Joe Zamudio helped pin him to the ground. A 61-year old woman, Patricia Maisch, grabbed the magazine the shooter had dropped while trying to reload, and then knelt on his ankles. Daniel Hernandez, Jr., rushed to the side of his new boss, Congresswoman Giffords, applying pressure to her wound, and keeping her from choking on her own blood. Let us commend and thank all of them, and resolve to act as they did if we are ever in such a situation. Let us remember their names, and black out the shooter’s.
Zamudio told MSNBC that he sprinted from a store toward the scene when he heard the shots. He has a concealed carry permit, and had his hand on his pistol, prepared to down the shooter if necessary. He said he was very glad that it proved to be unnecessary.
The actual shooting was over quickly, but the artillery of blame seems to be just beginning. Targets include the Tea Party, which didn’t even exist when the shooter first became angry at Congresswoman Giffords; the “right wing,” though Tucson is actually a very liberal town, and the shooter apparently a leftist; “vitriol,” which to some means any criticism of the policies they prefer, disregarding the nastiness from their own side; and of course talk radio.
The shooter didn’t acquire his bizarre thought patterns from a Tea Party event, if indeed he ever went to one. We know that he had a history of drug use, especially marijuana. Did he damage his brain or suppress his natural inhibitions with drugs? Was he on drugs at the time of the shooting, whether prescribed or illicit? Will the authorities ever reveal that?
According to a Jan 10 Mother Jones interview of a friend, the shooter holds a “nihilist” view of the world. He said that the world was really nothing—an illusion, and that “life means nothing.” He didn’t acquire that set of beliefs from the Tea Party. They are quite compatible, however, with the curriculum taught in the nation’s government schools. These schools, moreover, tend to discredit or deny the Founders’ belief in a universal higher Law and Lawgiver, and ultimate accountability. Maybe he never saw or heard about precepts such as “thou shalt not murder”—or was taught to disrespect those who believe them.
The shooter, like everybody else these days, exists in a sea of messages that glorify and sensationalize violence, and promote permissiveness and immediate gratification—in television, movies, and video games. From the common media milieu, one might think that rootlessness, experimentation with drugs and sex and violence, and lack of responsibility for one’s own actions are all acceptable. Family values, hard work, religious faith, belief in moral absolutes—the culture of most Tea Partiers—may be demeaned or actually condemned as out of date, discriminatory, or even crazy.
If we are to have peace in our communities, we need deep reflection, and a revival of the virtues that made America great. In this dangerous world, we need people who will rise to the occasion to help their neighbors, as many Tucsonans did. Our people also need the freedom to be able to do this—not more restrictions by a ruling class, which falsely promises security while making us ever more vulnerable to inevitable threats.
Commentary by Jane M. Orient, M.D.