One wonders what we will learn from these senseless shootings

The moment of silence came and went Monday, and I tried to set aside my own anger and heed President Barack Obama’s call “for us to come together as a nation in prayer or reflection, keeping the victims and their families closely at heart.”

The quiet passed, and I was revisited by the uneasy sense we are unlikely to learn anything from Saturday’s tragedy in Tucson. Is the lesson of the deadly shooting destined to be buried with the dead in a country that day by day watches its ability to reason slip away?

Consider this: It took the murder of six persons and the wounding of 14 more to even briefly quiet the heckling that passes for political discourse in this country. What an awful price to pay for fleeting introspection.

Although facts continue to emerge, it’s clear the mentally unstable Jared Lee Loughner had targeted Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat, for assassination when he approached her meet-and-greet event Saturday morning.

Loughner’s twisted mind manifested itself in trying to kill a member of Congress. Giffords had voted for health care reform, but it’s unclear whether Loughner’s assault was motivated by actual politics, or the issues that haunted his head. He used a 9 mm Glock handgun and possessed enough ammunition to kill dozens of people.

Was it, as Republicans were quick to surmise, the random, apolitical act of a deranged man? Or was it, as some Democrats contended, the result of mixing a crazy person with the hate-fueled conservative politics in the era of anti-immigration hysteria and the Tea Party movement?

Saturday’s shooting has become a bloody canvas on which we paint our political beliefs and biases.

For Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, the shooting had all the markings of a dark, self-fulfilling prophesy. It was what happens when hateful speech is celebrated in the conservative media, he said. Dupnik blamed Arizona’s angry anti-immigration stance, its embrace of its gunslinging heritage, and “the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business.”

He continued, “The bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

On the gun issue he later added, “Arizona is the Tombstone of the United States of America. I have never been a proponent of letting everybody in this state carry weapons under any circumstances they want. And that’s almost where we are.”

News accounts and Republican bloggers were swift to note the sheriff is a registered Democrat. Dupnik was taken to task by Sen. Jon Kyl and a long line of Republican members of Congress, as well as some conservative Arizona legislators. Neither hate speech nor lax gun laws were the issue, they said. (At least one suggested there weren’t enough armed Arizonans that day.) The actions of a lone gunman were.

Meanwhile, across the Colorado River, perhaps one or two Nevadans are wondering whether our state’s political mindset isn’t awfully close to Arizona’s. Immigration reform pegs the political meter here. The Tea Party movement boiled over here. And U.S. Senate hopeful Sharron Angle, who repeatedly spoke of patriotic Americans resorting to “Second Amendment remedies” if their candidates didn’t prevail at the ballot box, was popular enough to win the Republican primary here.

I don’t wonder whether Saturday’s deadly shooting in Tucson could have happened in Nevada. Of course it could. And, yes, it could have happened anywhere.

What I do wonder is whether we will learn anything from this senseless violence. I’m not confident.

At last check, Sheriff Dupnik was being torn to pieces for daring to question Arizona’s vicious and vitriolic political atmosphere.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.

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