Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

Gun Violence in America and the Tragedy in Tucson

with 8 comments

by Weiner

Well wishers gather outside University Medical center at a make-shift memorial in Tucson, Ariz., Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011. U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was shot in the head Saturday during a speech at a local supermarket.

In the aftermath of the horrific murders in Tucson, critics and pundits are rushing to place blame and to find the killer’s motives. Some on the Left are blaming Sarah Palin for her use target-laden imagery and violent rhetoric. Conservatives are calling Jared Loughner, the suspected shooter, a “liberal lunatic.” Some believe Loughner to be antisemitic.

Frankly, I have no idea what motivated Loughner. But in reaction to this crime, my fellow Canadians who I’ve spoken to all seem to have the same reaction: “Americans are crazy.” Of course they (we) don’t mean all Americans, or even most Americans. But America’s culture of violence, love affair with guns, and the facility with which one can purchase firearms is downright frightening. I was never a big fan of Michael Moore or his Bowling For Columbine, which painted a stupid and false image of Canada as a nation where people don’t lock their doors. And I know violent crime in Toronto especially has been on the rise. But I think Moore was 100% right that America’s culture of violence combined with loose gun laws that lead to terrible results. It’s not really Americans we Canadians think are crazy, it’s America. It’s times like these America scares me: the every man for himself, protect yourself at all times and by any means necessary attitude along with easy access to deadly weaponry. The statistics bear this point out: gun violence in America is a national tragedy and shame.

What bothers me most in terms of commentary on the incident is those who miss the point entirely. David Frum blames Loughner’s crime on his marijuana use, despite all evidence that suggests the drug war is more harmful than drugs themselves, that most marijuana users tend to be peaceful, that alcohol causes much more damage to our society even though it is (rightly) legal.

Even worse, however, is libertarian Radley Balko, who uses the Tucson shooting to launch another tirade against the very same American war on drugs. Balko is right in everything he says about the drug war, but in the context of Tucson, he’s utterly missing the point. Since we don’t know Loughner’s motives, the only thing we really can comment on is the extent of the tragedy and the horrific nature of gun violence in America.

Balko, of course, is a libertarian, and loves loves loves the American right to bear arms. Balko is right that “we should mourn the people senselessly murdered yesterday, government employees and otherwise: U.S. District Judge John Roll, Dorothy Murray, Dorwin Stoddard, nine-year-old Christina Green, Phyllis Scheck, and Gabe Zimmerman.” By focusing his attention on the drug war, however, he diverts attention away from the only cause we know of these people’s deaths: America’s dangerous level of gun violence. And I’m sure he’ll go back to tooting his libertarian horn in favour of looser gun regulations soon enough.


Written by David Weinfeld

January 9, 2011 at 21:15

8 Responses

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  1. Good post, though I don’t know how to solve the issue of gun violence in America. Furthermore, I believe, and correct me if I’m wrong, you chose the term “gun violence” as opposed to, say, “gun control” for a reason.

    For example, Mexico applies some of the strictest gun laws in the world, yet the ongoing drug wars in cities like Monterrey & Juarez show that citizens still find access to guns.

    I do not mean to equate the killing spree of a mad, delusional American to the Central American drug war, but I think you understand my point: people will find a way.

    It might make it more difficult, but I am not certain that we would see a significant decline in gun violence in America, if we were to alter, or even omit, the 2nd Amendment.

    In situations like this, I always mourn for those families who suffered losses. Almost to the point of depression. At that point, I usually turn to this to cheer me up.


    January 9, 2011 at 21:37

  2. Can everyone at least agree that a first step is for “federal background checks” to ban sales to people who’ve been deemed crazy by some authority? That has to be politically feasible even in a country as gun-happy as the United States. There were clear warning signs for both this psycho and the Virginia Tech psycho, but clearly no communication between those who recognized the troubled individuals and those who sell guns. Pima Community College managed to recognize this kid’s problems and protect Pima, but Pima’s action didn’t save Arizona and the United States. That’s just despicable. I want to be assured guns are kept out of the hands of such psychos before the country goes any deeper into the gun control debate.


    January 9, 2011 at 22:02

  3. Yes, Canadians do have trouble understanding America’s love obsession with guns, but as a montrealer, it’s hard to think that this kind of behavior only happens south of the border. For a city of 3 million, we’ve seen our share of school shootings (polytechnique, concordia and dawson) and I’ve never once in 29 years met a local who owns a firearm. In fact, it’s not hard to look outside of the US to find comparable violence. The UK was home to an atrocious shooting last year, Japan has been marred by random knifings, in schools and otherwise. Yes, lax laws regarding the second amendment have made it easier, and no doubt have led to an increase in violence, but the fact is, crazy people will do crazy shit. The tools can always be found – when there’s a will there’s a way…

    I’m all for gun control, but I doubt it would really provide a satisfying solution to random violence like what we saw in Tucson. You only need to look outside your borders to see examples of this.


    January 9, 2011 at 23:06

  4. @aaron and joe: Of course, stricter weapon laws and tighter gun control is no silver bullet (pun intended). Gun control alone will certainly not rid the US of random shootings all and for once. People do have a tendency to find ways to harm each other.

    However I firmly believe that better gun control would lead to a decrease in both gun related violence and random homicides as such. It is not a perfect solution, but it is a place to start, and I do believe that it could save the lives of quite a few Americans.


    January 10, 2011 at 05:01

  5. Thanks for all the comments.

    Aaron, sorry if that word choice confused you. I definitely meant to imply that greater gun control in the United States would be a good thing.

    Joe, I agree that Canada and elsewhere have lots of instances of terrible violence. But in terms of gun violence, the US really is much worse than the rest of the developed world, and we should remembered that guns are especially harmful. I’m not just talking about lunatics or gang violence, I’m talking about hunting accidents, stray bullets, people whose kids find their guns, etc. The statistics show that guns make people less safe, not more.

    And so I’ll agree with sungame. Gun control is a good place to start. And sometimes, policy can help change culture. With more restrictions, perhaps Americans would gradually come to love guns less, and that would make the country safer.

    See these two articles about just how insane Arizona’s gun laws are:



    January 10, 2011 at 10:47

  6. I’m not a historian, but I’m also from Montreal and was actually working at Dawson the day of the shooting. But perhaps you historians can trace back the development of idea of the “right to bear arms” (the second amendment, I assume) and figure out why the States went hog-wild with this idea while up here in Canada, it seems to have fizzled for most folks except hunters. I think that our paths when it comes to that issue started parting back in the 18th century and it would interesting to know why. I guess what I’m saying is that this gun-crazy attitude seems to have been going on since the 1770s (please correct me if I’m wrong) and so it’s a way of thinking that is historical and self-enforcing since fear breeds more fear and more fear etc.

    I’d love to know if there were any influences around that time that made Canada different. Why did our national mental template not foreground guns in the same way.

    And of course the big question is why has there been so much gun violence in Montreal when in many ways it’s a very safe place…I don’t feel afraid walking around at 2 or 3 am and I’m a woman…wouldn’t do that in many places south of the border.


    January 15, 2011 at 22:58

  7. Gun control will never be adopted. And the very reason it will not is because the government never applies gun control to its own agents. The government refuses to disarm, despite the killings of its own citizens . This hypocrisy factor, where governments basically say guns for me but not for thee, is sufficient reason why gun control laws are unpopular.
    Can everyone at least agree that a first step is for “federal background checks” to ban sales to people who’ve been deemed crazy by some authority?
    Just like we banned alcohol and heroin, right?

    The only way to deal with crazies is to lock them up, like what was done with Japanese-Americans in the 1940’s. And this is assuming that we can accurately identify the crazies.

    Michael Ejercito

    January 16, 2011 at 14:36

  8. […] other significant thought I have is about non-violent resistance, especially in light of the recent shootings in Tucson. Many Americans worship the Constitution’s Second Amendment not just out of a principle of […]

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