The Absence of Why

Representative Gabrielle GiffordsThe massacre in Tuscon which killed six (including a 9 year old child and a federal judge) and critically wounded Representative Gabrielle Giffords is more than a tragedy, it’s utterly unnerving. It’s deeply frightening to see lives taken with such a profound lack of discrimination or mercy. America is a nation that craves clear-cut answers: hence, it is simply unacceptable that there is no fathomable rationale for this hideous event. Journalists and law enforcement officials have descended upon Tuscon en masse and are probing every detail of Jared Lee Loughner’s background in the hope of finding one.

I wish them well, but I tend to think that the more they dig, the less they will find: the entire incident’s motif is an absence of why, not just in terms of the assassin’s motives, but also in regards to the conditions which allowed him to get as far as he did.

I’ve had the dubious privilege of viewing Loughner’s YouTube videos. It’s relatively easy to state that these were the products of a disturbed mind, one which was plagued by fears of conspiracies and infused with nonsense about thought control. This assessment only gets us a certain distance in analysing the demons which possessed him. What is even more striking is how pathetic his attempts at profundity were. Let’s be clear: by all accounts, he was one of society’s washouts, at best a marginal figure. In a gentler era, he would have eventually removed himself to a remote corner of Wyoming or Montana, stocked up on canned beans and guns, and taken potshots at any mailman (a representative of the government in a way) who dared venture near his property.

Loughner had prior run-ins with the law because he abused illegal narcotics. He was refused entry into the Army for as yet (formally) unclarified reasons. He was ejected from his local community college, in essence his last chance at an education, due to his disruptive and disturbing behaviour. Yet, the videos are a feeble attempt on his part to position himself as a great thinker; that said, his poor grammar, his hideous sentence structure and his mention of odd concepts such as “conscience dreaming” are proof positive that his is a profoundly small intellect. I also believe that his listing of both the Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf as “favourite books” have nothing to do with a personal ideological contradiction: he may have been merely listing the important books of which he was aware in order to bolster his intellectual reputuation. In contrast, some of his friends have suggested he is clever: sorry, I still doubt it. His unspeakable acts of violence, under these circumstances, may be a result of his inability to accept his utter irrelevance: he knew he was a genius, the rest of the world refused to acknowledge it. Following the model provided by Mark David Chapman (the man who shot John Lennon), his attempt to kill Representative Giffords was his way of drawing attention to himself and his supposedly radiant thoughts. Yes, Loughner has been silent since his arrest: however, I suspect that he has prepared a public statement which he will deploy at a moment of maximum advantage to satisfy the needs of his outsize ego. I also believe it will be a very disappointing moment for those who desire a better explanation for what he did.

The absence of why extends to another troubling question: why was Loughner permitted to get hold of a firearm? It would be one thing if Loughner was so “off the grid” that the authorities had no way of knowing that he shouldn’t own a gun. However, as previously mentioned, he had run-ins with the law. Furthermore, there is a certain amount of mystery as to exactly why the Army did not want to recruit him: was it because of his previous drugs use (this has been suggested on an “off the record” basis)? Or was there a psychological assessment which suggested he was unfit for service? Surely it was not beyond the wit of government officials to knit together this information. Certainly, it is not beyond the capabilities of information technology to flag up individuals like this, and it does not surpass the bounds of common sense to require at least an interview by local law enforcement before a gun was sold to someone with this kind of background. Yet none of this happened: under these circumstances, it is impossible to argue that the gun laws in Arizona are anything but too lax. Never mind, Arizona was hitherto planning to make the restrictions even more loose: a law presently before the Arizona legislature intends to extend concealed carry rights to college students.

That said, the entire gun culture in the United States also lacks a compelling “Why”. I have had headache-inducing discussions with other Americans about the Second Amendment, whose full text reads:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Those in favour of “gun rights” tend to look at the latter part of the amendment. However the first segment is actually the more interesting portion. What did the Founding Fathers mean by “a well-regulated Militia”? It is worth noting that when the Constitution was drafted in 1787, it was a little over 11 years after the Declaration of Independence had been signed. Among the complaints levelled at King George III in 1776 was the fact that he had kept standing armies amidst the citizenry in times of peace. Furthermore, the American War of Independence was largely fought by volunteer militias. Under those circumstances, citizens bore arms as they could be called up to fight for their country at almost any time: a similar arrangement persists in Switzerland today. However, this amendment was not intended to act as a license for individuals who wish to own rocket launchers for personal gain: the text has not kept up with changes to weaponry or military doctrine. In essence, what was intended as a statement of profound responsibility, i.e., one should be prepared to lay down one’s life in the defence of one’s community, has been turned into permission to possess the tools of murder. It is a perversion of original intent, and there’s no good reason as to why except the dubious necessities imposed by self-indulgence.

Some individuals who could be charitably described as “romantic” tend to quote Thomas Jefferson at this point and suggest that the “tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Lest we forget, this statement was made during the same epoch as the French Revolution, an experiment in blood-letting that Jefferson supported and which turned out to be futile in the end: it may be radical to suggest it, but perhaps Jefferson had his limitations and moments of naivete. The romantics persist and suggest that should it come down to it, they will use personal firearms to defend themselves against the government’s incursions. However, the last time I checked, the government had a monopoly on tanks, fighter jets and attack helicopters. A few “patriots” armed with semi-automatic or even automatic assault rifles driving Chevrolet Surburbans will likely have little impact. I also suggest that the business of securing liberty lay less in some orgiastic fantasizing about shooting the local sheriff and far more with education, securing a free press, and advancing knowledge through discourse. This is altogether too practical to appeal to the “romantics”, however.

In essence, we are adrift upon a turbulent sea of irrationality. As such, I genuinely hope that that Representative Giffords recovers: by all accounts, she is the kind of politician that is profoundly needed in these troubled times. She was moderate in her rhetoric, calm in her discourse, humble in her service, and possessed by a genuine concern for her community. Hopefully, the same strength which has sustained her so far will find a way to bring her back to the forefront of politics. It would be a terrible shame if the senseless, the mindless and the deranged emerged triumphant in this instance.

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  • Valerie in San Diego

    Wish I had more to say than “hear, hear!” but “hear, hear!” it is. Thanks for putting this so well.

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