Sunday, June 18, 2017

Partisan division, rage, and violence

We know that James Hodgkinson left his home in Illinois about two months ago and came to Alexandria, VA, where he took a membership in a YMCA and had been living out of his van parked in their parking lot -- which overlooks the baseball field where the Republican congressmen were practicing for their annual charity baseball game with the Democrats.

Hodgkinson was the gunman who shot and gravely injured Rep. Steve Scalise, as well as inflicting less serious injuries to several other staffers and guards.  He was killed in a shootout with security officers at the scene.

Why he did it seems to have arisen in a disturbed mind that manifest in rage at President Trump and the Republicans.   This appeared mostly from his writings on social media.   His wife, who stayed in Illinois, says she had no idea he intended to do this, although I would want to question her further, given that her husband had apparently stopped working as a home inspector.

Three months ago, he legally bought a semi-automatic rifle and a hand gun and had been doing practice shooting in his yard, enough that a neighbor called the police.   They just warned him against shooting in the area.   Then he gave, as his reason for going to Washington, that he wanted to get involved in politics.  Oh, and he had been arrested years ago for domestic abuse, but charges were dropped.

Although those seem like warning signs -- at least in retrospect -- local YMCA members, who have chatted with Hodgkinson over the past few weeks at the Y, found him to be friendly, often absorbed in his laptop, and not given to discussing politics as they encountered him at the gym or having coffee.  Police now have his laptop, phone and other materials that they are exploring to understand better what motivated him to finally start shooting at the Republicans on the field.

So, although in retrospect it's easy to point to red flags, if you put surveillance on everyone meeting those criteria, it would be too large a task for our resources.

But it's the larger context of our increasingly divided, and rage-filled public discourse that this post focuses on.   I want to share some of an essay I just read from Bill Press, "It's Not the Rhetoric, It's the Guns," distributed by the Tribune Media Content Agency.  He hosts a nationally syndicated radio show and is a CNN political analyst.

"No words can adequately describe the tragedy we experienced this week when a lone gunman opened fire on a group of congressmen doing nothing more than playing baseball -- getting in one last practice in Alexandria, Virginia, before this year's version of the last occasion left in Washington where members of both parties actually have a good time together: the annual Congressional Baseball Game.

"Within minutes, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA.) was down and one staffer and one former staffer were wounded, as were two brave Capitol Police officers who rushed the shooter and returned fire. Without a doubt, had those two officers not been present, the ballfield would have turned into a slaughterhouse.

"In the wake of the shooting, there were those who seized the moment to unite the country in the right mix of outrage and sorrow, led by Speaker Paul Ryan, who told House Members: "An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us."

". . . . Sadly, there were also dunderheads who seized the moment to divide the country by scoring political points, led by former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who called the shooting "part of a pattern" and told Fox News: 'You've had an increasing intensity of hostility on the left.'  While Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) rushed to blame Democrats: 'I can only hope that the Democrats do tone down the rhetoric.'

"Turning an attempted assassination into cheap partisan sniping is not only disgusting, it's dead wrong. Just because the gunman happened to be a Bernie Sanders supporter who hated Republicans doesn't mean he represents all Democrats, any more than a mass murderer who happens to be a Christian represents Jesus Christ.

"Moreover, while it's true there's too much hate-filled language in today's politics and everybody needs to tone down the rhetoric, the most inflammatory language is not coming from the left. It's from the right. And nobody's guiltier of it than Donald Trump, who has called James Comey a 'nut job,' Barack Obama a 'sick man,' Hillary Clinton a 'nasty woman,' and journalists 'the enemy of the American people'. . . . 

"More importantly, the whole discussion about political rhetoric misses the point. It doesn't matter whether the gunman was a Democrat, Republican, independent, socialist, communist, or Green Party member. The point is: He had no business being able to buy, own, and tote around an assault rifle and an automatic pistol.

"Where's the outrage about gun violence? In 2016, according to the Gun Violence Archive, there were 384 mass shootings -- defined as four or more killed or wounded by gunfire -- in the United States. More than one a day! So far in 2017, there have been 154. . . .

"What happened in Alexandria, in fact, wasn't the only shooting on June 14. Three people were also gunned down at a UPS facility in San Francisco. Six people were killed and 37 wounded by gunfire on the streets of Chicago last weekend. . . .

"What will it take for Congress to act? What will it take before Congress stops protecting the gun manufacturers and starts protecting the American people?
Even though they failed to act after Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Charleston, or Orlando, you might think they'd consider some common-sense gun safety measures after one of their own is struck.

"Think again. Six years ago, Congress did nothing after Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot. They'll do nothing this year after Congressman Steve Scalise was shot. The NRA still rules the U.S. Congress.  Shame!

Yes, I'm in full agreement that there are too many guns, and they are too readily obtainable;  and guns designed to kill many people as quickly as possible, shouldn't be available at all.  But they are.  Hodgkinson bought his guns legally and would probably have passed background checks in any state.

This one is not a problem for tinkering with gun control legislation, which will fail to even be brought up for vote.  We need a deeper examination of our rage-filled culture -- not focused on assigning blame but on a mutual concern for what is happening to our country.


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