Saturday, January 08, 2011

On the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords

UPDATE: The latest news has Giffords alive and responsive. No word on the extent of her incapacitation.

Conflicting reports have (8th district Congresswoman) Gabrielle Giffords either dead or undergoing surgery, after being shot in the head at close range at a constituent outreach event at the Safeway near Ina and Oracle this morning. Twelve others were shot. The shooter is in police custody following a citizen's arrest made as he was attempting to escape.

Right now the news is too patchy to say much. Presumably Giffords is permanently incapacitated; just the shock wave produced by a 9mm or 0.38 caliber round at close range can cause severe brain injury. There are more questions than answers right now: why was the shooter able to fire so many rounds before he was stopped? Why was Giffords's staff not carrying? And who was the shooter?

Already the Left is attempting to blame Sarah Palin for this, as though using a hunting metaphor months ago on a PAC campaign graphic is incitement to murder today. That's ridiculous. We do not know who the shooter is at the moment--a man in his '20s is all the press is telling us--or what his motives were. It could just as easily be a left-wing extremist--Tucson has plenty--as it could be a right-wing extremist; Giffords against the Democrats about 40% of the time, and was one of only a small handful to vote against reelecting Nancy Pelosi to the position of Speaker of the House. The more extreme are calling for abridgement of freedom of the press and freedom of speech--"lock up Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin." Such talk is beyond the bounds of decency in our republic. With two narrow and well-thought exceptions--incitement and libel--we hold communication to be the remedy for communication and do not hold the authors of whatever assassins and other criminals are reading as somehow co-responsible for their crimes.

Surely today's events will give illiberal nutcases like Paul Helmke an undeserved boost of attention, if only because the rights they attempting to abridge were more recently won than those protected by the 1st Amendment. It's going to be a hard fight but the facts are on the side of liberty, unless the balancing of values very heavily favors the safety of public figures against rare events over the quotidian safety of ordinary people. Even then we must remember that John Hinkley, Sirhan Sirhan, and so many others acted before concealed carry was made legal. Readers may consider it heresy for me to say so, but now that we've won--now that (except in IL, NY, WI, and CA...) the existential threat to the right to self-defense is over--it is time, if not past time, for advocates of RKBA to contribute constructively to the discussion of how to better keep firearms out of the hands of lunatics and mental defectives. Agreeing to mandatory legal training and more thorough screening--with due process, of course--in exchange for the opponents to our right to self defense permanently standing down is a win-win bargain. And perhaps better screening would have prevented today's assassination. We do not know. As for who is to blame for lax screening, that is shared. The "anti-"s created a climate of fear that made what would otherwise be reasonable rules look like preludes to all-out abridgement of rights, and the "pro-"s for very long took an "in whatever manner pleases me" position that makes sense for law-abiding folk but doesn't make sense in an imperfect world.

The news is not clear but what is clear is the past. We were all disappointed in her vote on the "health care reform" bill that banned actuarially fair insurance and imposed a heavy transaction reporting burden on small business. But looking beyond that Giffords was no party-line voter and no ideologue. A supporter of the right to keep and bear arms, a believer in the "no exceptions" position on freedom of the press and freedom of speech, and also someone who understood, as a small businesswoman, that civil society, not government, gives prosperity, in the good sense of the word she had a liberal streak sadly lacking in today's Democratic Party. And in an era when too many Congressmen govern from Washington--which often is to Arizona what Rome must have been to Pontius Pilate's Judea--Giffords frequently met with her constituents without pre-screening their opinions or otherwise making the meeting "just for show". Altogether she was a fine match for Jim Kolbe's old 8th District and far closer to her predecessor in position and temperament than Jesse Kelly or Randy Graf, something most Republicans around here never did come to understand.

The worst criticism to be leveled at her: failure to show any leadership in a Democratic Party that made a knight's move, hard to the Left and backwards 25 years, between 2001 and 2005. Following a Friday interview The Sierra Vista Herald's Bill Hess reported what amount to signs of Gabby Giffords starting to take the lead as an advocate of fiscal restraint.

Then some jackass shot her. What was that supposed to accomplish?

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