I've been thinking a lot about the Arizona shooting on Saturday. My thoughts are with Rep. Giffords, but I'm betting Arizona will need to elect a new representative for her district. Nobody recovers from a bullet through the brain in a hurry.
I admit, my first response to the news was to wonder if someone would indict Sarah Palin for inciting to violence, if not for conspiracy to commit murder, because of her notorious web site with the gunsights on Democrats she wanted to remove. I've been following the story closely in the media (and I don't mean Fox News), and I've concluded that, probably, Sarah Palin and her web site weren't involved in this at all. The young man who did this wasn't listening to the Tea Party or Glen Beck; he was listening to the voices in his head. If you put Sarah Palin on a platform in front of him, he might take a shot at her too.
Is the violent rhetoric used by Palin, by the Fox News commentators, and by a lot of people on the right, excusable? No, I don't think it is. The left was using this rhetoric in the Sixties - remember "kill the pigs!" - and it was wrong then, and it still is. You may not actually mean the violent things you say as metaphor, but you never know who is listening to you, or what they may do with your suggestions. In that sense, Keith Olbermann was right yesterday when he said we must all stop using metaphors of violence, even though I don't believe in this case that political metaphors of violence were involved at all.
No, yesterday's attack, and all the violent rhetoric we hear around us, are the price of our freedom.
Our constitution says that we have freedom of speech, which means that if we want to publish a photo of our opponent with a gunsight imposed over it, that's our right as Americans. The fact that we have the right to do something doesn't make it "right" in the sense of just, correct, or even sensible.
Our constitution says we have the right to keep and bear arms, which means that if a troubled young man decides to buy an automatic pistol, he has every right to do so, and what he does with it is up to him.
Another amendment (I can't recall which) is normally used today to say that we cannot force mentally ill people into treatment. This young man clearly needed treatment; he was kicked out of the local community college unless he were to come back with a clearance from a mental health professional. The combination of this attitude with the free access to firearms allowed a deeply disturbed young man to buy a gun and kill six people.
I spent 19 years as a computer system programmer, in charge of maintaining IBM mainframe and Sun Solaris servers. The first thing you learn as a system programmer is that you have absolute authority to do everything on the box - it's called the "God ID" - and this authority is dangerous. You have to think about what you're doing. You have to consider consequences. Freedom is dangerous. Americans have many freedoms. We are, in fact, free to do a number of things that are totally stupid. We have to start thinking about what we do and say. We could start by trying to disagree with each other civilly.