by Ken Feltman
I have received dozens of questions, more that half from outside the United States, on what the shootings in Tucson, Arizona, mean. Based on the way many questions are phrased, I get the impression that readers from outside the U.S. may be getting a misinterpretation of what occurred. A youthful gunman killed six and wounded 14 people. A federal judge is dead. A nine-year-old girl is dead. A member of Congress – the intended victim of the assassin – is severely wounded. A bullet passed through her brain.
Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ district stretches along the Mexican border from the New Mexico state line to just east of Nogales on the border and Tucson to the northwest. The town of Tombstone – site of the gunfight at the OK Corral – is near the center of the district. The ruggedly beautiful desert is overrun by border-crossing smugglers, especially violence-prone drug smugglers who have commandeered whole sections of public and private land. The district is a main point of entry for illegal immigrants as well as illegal drugs.
The assassinations were not the work of the Tea Parties. This was the work of a deranged misfit with a handgun. Here are comments I have made to Washington-based Politico, a print and online newspaper:
Politico, January 10, 2011: Is the state of Arizona getting unfairly branded with this “Wild West” reputation?
Until you walk a mile in their moccasins, please reserve judgment about Arizonans.
A friend who is a former high-ranking federal official and long-time Arizonan tells me that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Gov. Jan Brewer are good friends. They maintain their friendship despite some political differences. The pundits who attacked Brewer for trying to take advantage of the tragedy by claiming friendship with Giffords (“I am just heartbroken. Gabby is more than just a colleague. She’s also a friend.”) are incorrect.
What we know is that Giffords is very popular with other members of Congress from both parties, as she’s popular with both Republicans and Democrats in her district and throughout Arizona. She is one of those extraordinary people who gets along with almost everyone. Giffords’ consensus-building is exactly what Washington and Arizona need. A crazed young man wanted to deprive all of us of her rare abilities.
After talking with Giffords a few times in Washington, I was left with the impression that she is very bright, flexible, an energetic problem-solver who has the ability to ask probing questions in a friendly, inoffensive way. The district she represents was formerly represented by my college fraternity brother, Jim Kolbe, and my wife and I have the Kolbe ranch Rail X branding iron by our fireplace to remind us of that magical but tough land.
Guns are part of Arizona’s culture. That is a fact, like it or not. My friend tells me that many Arizonans “carry.” Toting a concealed weapon is not unusual, and respected citizens – including elected officials – carry.
Fear is growing as formerly safe areas become havens for drug gangs and their ruthless methods. In some cases, private property has been taken over by lawless cross-border gangs. The citizens are getting desperate for help.
This tragedy has killed and wounded men and women of accomplishment, but it has also taken a little girl with potential. Who knows what Christina Taylor Green might have made of her promising start? Who can understand what her close-knit family is going through now? Those are moccasins that no one wants to walk in. But we must try because we must learn how to stop deranged minds from venting their frustrations with guns.
Note: Christina Taylor Green’s grandfather is baseball player-executive Dallas Green. He managed the Philadelphia Phillies to the World Series championship in 1980. I got to know him because he was general manager of the Chicago Cubs in the mid-1980s. He is a blustery giant with a heart of gold and his heart must be breaking with this loss. Baseball runs in the family. Christina’s father is with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Christina was the only girl on her Little League team. She excelled at baseball and had just been elected to the student council at her school. She wanted to meet her role model, Congresswoman Giffords. Now she is dead.
Politico, January 9, 2011: Is it appropriate to link this violence with political rhetoric?
Words have consequences. Using inflammatory words to castigate another’s words merely escalates the whole hateful cycle. People of good will must moderate their incendiary words. Our political leaders must set the example.
The left complains about the rhetoric of the right. But the left may not understand the impact that the language of derision and condescension can have on listeners from the right, who may feel that they are being belittled by “elites.” The right complains about the rhetoric of the left. But the right may not understand the impact that the language of “red meat” can have on listeners from the left, who may take the words quite literally and fearfully.
When our leaders in public life, including the media, avoid pejorative language, perhaps our law enforcement officials will be able to isolate the threatening and the deranged from the politicians and media representatives.
Politico, January 8, 2011: At this point, with facts still coming in, we would simply like to get your reaction to Saturday’s tragic events.
My first reaction was to pray for Rep. Giffords, her family, the other victims and their families. They are drawn together in a terrible tragedy that will echo through the coming years.
My second reaction was outrage at the gunman – outrage that he had the audacity to try to take the life of a member of Congress who was elected with the support of thousands of Arizonans.
But my third reaction is to wonder when enough Americans will understand that guns are the weapon of choice for deranged potential assassins? When will we do something about that?
Sarah Palin and other conservatives have used images and words that I have found inappropriate. I conveyed my thoughts to Palin some months ago. But the left has used similarly inappropriate images and words. In fact, President Obama has too often used the rough language of Chicago politics.
As a product of Chicago, I understand that Obama does not intend that people take it literally when he suggests bringing a gun to resolve a legislative impasse. It is time for all Americans to chill out. Then, as we mourn these latest victims of violence, it is time we sort out our border security problems and our passion for guns – guns that are not suited for sport but are best suited for killing human beings.