The Gabrielle Giffords shooting in Tucson

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Saturday, the second wave of news from Tucson reported that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is fairly liberal and had previously been confronted angrily by members of the Tea Party crowd; and that federal judge John Roll, who was killed Saturday, had received death threats after a ruling that favored migrant workers. That’s all I needed to know to conclude that the shootings had probably been the handiwork of some Limbaugh-addicted, right-wing extremist. Conversations and e-mail exchanges with friends made it clear that most of them were thinking the same thing. Frankly, it was a reasonable conclusion, considering the hysterical, violence-tinged noises heard during the past couple of years from the right’s fringes (guys packing heat at health care town hall meetings, or “Gather your armies,” or “Second Amendment solutions,” anyone?), as well as Tucson’s recent role as a political flashpoint.

At this point (Monday early p.m.), however, it appears that the accused murderer, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, is essentially, to quote one of his former teachers, “someone whose brains are scrambled,” his few quasi-political ramblings notwithstanding. Who knows what further digging will turn up, but as of now, Loughner doesn’t fit the “right-wing nut” mode. What follows are some observations and links related to the tragic shootings.

1. For an excellent summary of what we know so far about Loughner, read this piece from Talking Points Memo.

2. The Tea Party movement was Johnny-on-the-spot, declaring to anyone listening, “Don’t blame us!” and denying any responsibility for the shooting. One movement leader went so far as to say that liberals’ reaction to the shooting “sinks to the level of evil.” No word yet on whether any Tea Party leaders will eventually admit that their movement’s rhetoric has often been over the top and tinged with implied threats of violence. That level of self-awareness, however, has never been one of the movement’s strong suits, but there’s always hope.

3. Loughner’s list of favorite books led to instant speculation, with conservatives saying that Loughner’s mention of The Communist Manifesto showed that the gunman was a liberal lunatic, and liberals noting that Loughner’s fondness for Mein Kampf and Ayn  Rand’s We The Living proved that he was a right-wing maniac. The list, as Salon’s Laura Miller pointed out, is actually pretty typical of a 20-something with a rebellious streak who is searching for answers.

4.  Widespread criticisms emerged of a 2010 map from Sarah Palin's political action committee. The map included gun crosshairs over the districts of several Democrats who voted for health care reform, including Giffords' district. A Sarah Palin spokesperson denied that the crosshairs on the maps were gun sights. That is a mind-boggling, ridiculous thing to say, and, to be blunt, a goddamned lie. If you want to deny culpability in the shootings, that’s fine, but don’t deny what everyone can see with their own eyes, for God’s sake.

5. After the Palin map was published last year, Giffords warned that the illustration could have violent consequences. “We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, the way she has it depicted, we’re in the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district,” Giffords said. “When people do that, they’ve got to realize that there are consequences to that action.”

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6. The shooting is horrifying and tragic, but, sad to say, it’s not surprising that something like it could happen. Americans are too often in serious denial about what a violent country this is. We have a murder rate that is so unthinkably large that other civilized countries think we're all going nuts; at times, I have to agree.

7. There is one question that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later by Congress. It's something also asked today by Time magazine: Why are the mentally ill allowed to buy and carry lethal weapons?

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