Extreme violence again in US spotlight (News Feature)
By Andy Goldberg Jan 10, 2011, 22:37 GMT
Los Angeles - It was the same old story, just the people and the details were different.
A disturbed individual with an oversized grudge goes into a US store, buys a gun almost as easily as a loaf of bread, and uses the weapon to kill, maim and destroy the lives of others.
This time the perpetrator was Jared Lee Loughner, 22, a student who had been suspended from his local college after five run-ins with police, and who had been described earlier in the year by his fellow students as clearly dangerous.
'We have a mentally unstable person in the class that scares the living crap out of me,' one student wrote on June 14. 'He is one of those whose picture you see on the news, after he has come into class with an automatic weapon.'
Yet has was able to buy a semi-automatic Glock pistol with only a cursory background check at a local hunting store, and use it to target Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and anyone else who happened to be around her as she met constituents at a suburban shopping mall in Tucson, Arizona.
Loughner had a history of anti-government rants, but as he refuses to cooperate with authorities, his exact motivations remain unclear. Police believe he harboured a grudge against the left-leaning Jewish congresswoman, based on a letter they found in his safe in which she thanked him for attending a previous event.
There was renewed lip-service paid to the absurdity of US gun laws - though given the influence of the pro-gun lobby there is virtually no chance that the latest attack will lead to any changes.
But many in the US media pointed to the vitriolic political talk, particularly by rightwing politicians and opinion makers, as providing the crucial backdrop to the harrowing event.
Sarah Palin was blasted for an ad prior to the November elections, in which she showed a map of the US, with vulnerable Democratic districts depicted with rifle sights.
'We've diagnosed the problem' she urged supporters. 'Help us prescribe the solution.'
Giffords' Republican challenger in November, Jesse Kelly, was even more blatant in portraying guns as a way to deal with his political opponents. He actually held a political event called 'Get on Target for Victory,' in which attendees could target shoot a fully automatic M16 to 'help remove Giffords from office.'
Incendiary right-wing political pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have been repeatedly charged with stoking a volatile atmosphere.
Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who is overseeing the investigation of the mass shooting, lashed out at these exhortations, especially those in his home state of Arizona, which is on the front line of the debate over illegal immigration.
'I think when the rhetoric about hatred, about mistrust of government, about paranoia about how government operates ... and the (inflammation) of the public on a daily basis, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, has impact on people who are unbalanced personalities to begin with,' Dupnik said in broadcast remarks.
Not surprisingly those talk show hosts rejected those allegations.
'This is a crazy person,' said Arizona radio host Jon Justice. 'Politics is out the window - you're a nut bag! No amount of controlling talk radio is going to change that.'
Tea Party leader Mark Meckler said that blaming the right wing for the attack was 'genuinely revolting.'
'I think it sinks to the level of evil,' he told the website The Daily Beast. 'If these scumbags want to play it politically, let it be on their conscience.'
Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times left-wing columnist, said the incident was a massacre waiting to happen.
'It's true that the shooter in Arizona appears to have been mentally troubled,' he wrote. 'But that doesn't mean that his act can or should be treated as an isolated event having nothing to do with the national climate.'
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