The tragic shooting of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others could be explained as the work of a single deranged individual. This explanation would be easy, but grossly misleading.
Early accounts indicate the accused killer has a history of psychological problems and violent tendencies. These factors likely played a role in the shooting. However, we cannot discount the context in which he – and potential future mass murderers – live.
Our political discourse has grown gross and vulgar. Both Democratic and Republican candidates vow to “fight” for their issues.
Character assassination and personal attacks on opponents are the order of the day, and often win elections. Tea Party activists hold rallies to “take out” their opponents, often encouraging people to bring guns to the rallies. Sarah Palin posts maps on her website depicting political opponents in the cross-hairs of a sighting scope.
Ours is a culture of violence. There are over 200 million firearms in the U.S. Violent movies, video games, and music proliferate and generate huge profits. Obama condemns the Arizona violence while continuing to kill civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, much the way Bill Clinton condemned the Columbine massacre on the same day he dropped bombs on civilians in Kosovo.
Heated political rhetoric and culturally acceptable violence are a dangerous combination.
Add to this massive government cutbacks in services for the mentally ill and easy access to weapons and you have a recipe for disaster.
How long before the next “lone gunman” disturbs a quiet Saturday morning?