Christina Green's short life was squeezed between two tragedies; the nine-year-old was born on September 11, 2001 and, tragically, shot to death by a deranged Jared Lee Loughner in Tucson on January 8, 2011. Loughner had nothing against little Christina; rather, she was merely collateral damage in a still-unexplained shooting and killing spree. His main target was Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a moderate Democrat who has managed to survive being shot point-blank in the head, with real hope for her recovery. Six out of the twenty innocent people Loughner shot were not so lucky and have died.
Ironically, Rep. Giffords herself makes no secret of owning a 9 mm. Glock handgun similar to the one Loughner used to shoot her and the others. Indeed, under present gun laws, Loughner was perfectly entitled to buy the gun from a local sporting supplies store, along with an extended clip holding thirty-one bullets. That clip, however, would have been illegal prior to the repeal of some limits on semiautomatic handguns in 2004. The Glock clip available before 2004 held ten bullets, not enough to shoot twenty people.
The sad truth is that gun control is pretty-much a non-issue in America today, while so-called Second Amendment gun rights are a way-of-life, a sacred cow not even open to discussion. Bumper stickers with slogans such as GUN CONTROL MEANS AIMING WITH BOTH HANDS and HONK IF YOU'RE RELOADING are commonplace, all of which legitimizes the selling of guns to schizophrenic and psychotic people. But while those trends help to explain why America has one of the highest rates of gun violence in the world, there are additional causes of this particular attack and the killings in Tucson.
Arizona has indeed become the focus of a well-orchestrated hate campaign against those crossing its long border with Mexico, much of which lies within Rep. Giffords' district. Its governor has implemented draconian measures allowing profiling of residents whose "papers" may then be demanded without the standard of probable cause, just because they appear to be Mexican to some law enforcer. One sheriff has received national attention for his harsh measures against possible illegals. Vigilante groups patrol the Arizona-Mexico border, armed to the teeth, to help catch any suspicious characters. Politicians try to out-do each other in their hate-filled ravings and rantings on the subject.
Rep. Giffords was a voice of sanity in this poisoned debate, recognizing that all people have rights and that due process and the rule of law have always been the American way. She was targeted for defeat by the Republican and Tea Party forces in the 2010 elections, targeted literally as her Congressional district was shown "in the crosshairs" of a map which Sarah Palin posted on her website along with the slogan: DON'T RETREAT -" RELOAD! Since the tragic shootings, Palin has stated that the crosshairs symbol had nothing to do with a gunsight, and the slogan was not meant to be taken literally. Sure!
If the poisoned political climate continues and intensifies, there will undoubtedly be more tragic events such as Tucson's. The handwriting on the wall has been clear for some time. There is no shortage of people like Jared Lee Loughner with real or imagined grievances, and there is surely no shortage of handguns and other weapons they can use to ruin lives. Yet, Americans are not powerless against such outrages; here are some steps we can take:
1) When an individual is identified as having serious unresolved mental issues, there should be an affirmative responsibility to seek help for that person, beginning with reporting the situation to responsible officials tasked to take report seriously. Loughner's bizarre behavior in classes at the local community college was well-known to his teachers and fellow students, communications were sent to the school administration, but the only action taken was to expel him from the campus. The information appears to have never been passed on to authorities.
2) A structure is needed to receive, and act on, such information about dangerous people. We have the technology to develop regional, and ultimately national, databases which can constitute a "watch list" so that all relevant information is combined with search criteria which clearly show emerging and growing threats.
3) Applications for handgun permits must then be checked against the "watch list" and where a match occurs, law enforcement should be advised before a permit is issued or a handgun is sold to those who may wish to use it to harm others. It should not be easier to obtain a handgun than it is to obtain a driver's license.
4) The level and tone of political rhetoric must return to some semblance of civility. There is no doubt that the poisonous atmosphere and hateful tone of much of the rhetoric on the Far Right legitimizes extreme reactions, including violence, against those seen as "the enemy." The British usually consider the other side to be "the loyal opposition," and we should embrace that concept and treat all participants in the political and governmental process with respect. It is indeed possible to disagree without being disagreeable -" or hateful.
5) Meaningful gun control absolutely has to be made a national priority. We know that this can happen, as it did after the attempt to assassinate President Regan in the early 1980s. The Brady Bill, named for Reagan's press secretary who was seriously wounded in that attack, was a good start on limiting the inappropriate use of handguns in particular. In the decades since, we have gone in the other direction, in ways never intended by the Second Amendment which advocates gun ownership for purposes of having a standing militia, not for use by crazies.