Arizona and the Shooting of Gabrielle Giffords

Tom Zoellner, formerly of the San Francisco Chronicle and the Arizona Republic, lives in Tucson and was a good friend of Gabrielle Giffords.  His new book,  A Safeway in Arizona: What the Gabrielle Giffords Shooting Tells Us About the Grand Canyon State and Life in America, looks like it might be an interesting contribution to the question of why the shooting happened.  For plenty of people the answer is just bum-luck and insanity: Jared Loughner was insane, he shot her, end of story.  It could have happened to anyone — like the Scottish kindergarten kids shot down by a mad man a few years ago, or the Chinese children knifed by lunatics there.  Nothing about time, place, particular target, social fabric has anything to do with getting at an answer, and any attempts to do so are a typical left-wing excusing of the guilty to indict a city/state/nation.

For others, the answer to why Congresswoman Gifford was shot down, and six others killed, is not so pat.  Loughner did go after Giffords, not a milkman or a Sunday school teacher.  Arizona is chief player in extremely tough rhetoric about very emotional issues — from guns stuck in pockets while going to the movies (or most anywhere else) to immigrants  “flooding” the state and taking social services from those who are opposed to social services anyway.  Commonsense would indicate a close look to see if contributory conditions existed.

Zoellner would seem, from his title, to be in the latter camp. From Gregory Rodriguez’ review in San Francisco Chronicle Books, he’s made a good case.

To his credit, Zoellner doesn’t ascribe the incident solely to the twisted logic of a psychotic 22-year-old. Nor does he simply blame the violence on the incivility that pervades our political culture. Instead, he carefully and convincingly treads new ground and concludes that “events — especially violent ones — never happen in a vacuum; there are always contributing factors to any action, and human beings are far more influenced by the collective psychology of their immediate surroundings than they ever suspect.”

David Ulin at the LA Times, doesn’t think so:

…we have a key contradiction of “A Safeway in Arizona,” which veers between seeing the Giffords shooting as emblematic and isolated, as a metaphor for a larger social dysfunction and the act of a disturbed young man. Zoellner, it seems, believes it’s both, but he never quite articulates that convincingly. Again, it’s a matter of knowing where he stands — but even more, it has to do with his inability to find a through-line, to frame the shooting in the broader terms he seeks.

We’d have to read it ourselves to see which is more right, though, as many big issues today, the best evidence and argumentation is not likely to convince those whose reason is only used like an exo-skeleton to protect the soft meat of their beliefs.

It also seems that the question of what Loughner, or those around him who knew something was wrong, might have done.  Perhaps it’s fitting that in a state and a country with a swelling of neo-libertarian beliefs has been rising, nothing was done, because what might have been done was little known, and barely agreed with.  Better we all practice dodging bullets.