First off, let's breathe a huge sigh of relief that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is going to survive her attack. Cynically, this is the next step in the political career of a woman who already looked like the platonic ideal of the kind of person you want to be running the country.
Stage one of my reaction to the tragic shooting of Rep. Giffords was "there is no way this dude wasn't a Tea Party nutjob," along with a lot of vitriol aimed at anyone who took the so-called rational point of view that maybe we should wait until we get all the facts.
Stage two was all the facts came in and Jared Lee Loughner was a lone wolf, probably schizophrenic and, while a nut job, not one swayed one way or the other by Sarah Palin and her legion of idiots.
Stage three has been a long, complicated debate about what exactly we should take away from this tragedy. And the two sides are "it's too easy to get guns" and "we still need to talk about the Tea Party's violent rhetoric." These two points of view aren't at all at odds (and I agree with both points), but the issue is whether we blame the lack of gun control or the increasingly brutal imagery used by the far right.
Despite the lack of any connection AT ALL between Loughner and the Tea Party, I think it's a problem that a large faction of the country knew exactly which direction to look when a liberal politician got shot in the head. Tea Party-related violence is nothing new and had actually affected Giffords before. But this isn't the first time we've had to be like "really, Sarah?" so I'm not expecting any changes from the Tea Party. On the bright side, this might put a wrench in their political future but that's beside the point.
I begrudgingly acknowledge the free speech angle that allows the Tea Party to invoke "second amendment solutions" to political problems, and realize that our Democracy is better off for not being so quick to link inflammatory speech to lawless acts (word to Brandenburg, thanks Caps for the reference). But when you talk reckless about how maybe we should bust back at politicians we don't agree with, no matter how tongue-in-cheek you are trying to be, crazy people hear you and might act accordingly. (As noted last week, Clinton made this point after Oklahoma City, much to the chagrin of Republicans.) And it's really easy for crazy people to get guns.
And here we come to the other side of the conversation: why was this dude allowed to arm himself when everyone knew he was nuts?
Gawker basically nailed it this morning with this post, about how gun control is dead in America. (Hat tip also to Tom Tomorrow, who makes the same point).
America made its peace with guns. We love em, we want em, they aren't going anywhere. I'm both the first and last dude to think too much about the content of a rapper who openly discusses his disdain for lyricism, but the fact that Flockavelli is at least 75% dude making gun sounds and was one of the best rap records of last year is WONDERFULLY ILLUSTRATIVE.
Guns are barely a wedge issue anymore: it's not politically risky for a Democrat to go to the shooting range. Compare and contrast with abortion, for lack of a better example: pro-life Dems take a huge risk planting their flag on that side of the issue, as do pro-choice Republicans. So is it bad that this doesn't bother me that much? America made its choice: we want guns. If the price of that freedom is that once a year there's a random shooting in the suburbs, so be it. It's a totally senseless waste of life, but apparently that's what we want. You're still much more likely to die in a car crash (or from tainted, factory farmed food!) than you are to be shot while buying toothpaste at Target. Also, your kid might shoot himself in the leg. Good job, America!
Here's why I'm so blase about this: I see a difference between endemic gun violence and random gun violence and I'm much more concerned about the slice of America that arms itself to commit (or defend against) crimes than suburban Dads who need a metal penis to feel content. And while we could cut down on gun violence significantly by tighting the screws to gun shows in Virginia, that's not the only way to do so. People commit crimes for a lot of reasons, related to economic factors, lack of opportunity, lack of education, lack of police etc etc. In a country where we're already horribly undercutting our schools and struggling with unemployment, I'd rather see the debate get back to the root causes of crime (and poverty) instead of focusing on why a criminal was able to acquire the tools of the trade. It's a classic case of treating the symptoms, not the disease itself.
This is just a really long-winded way for me to say I'm voting on local issues, particularly those pertaining to education and small-scale development long before I even consider a politician's record on guns. I realize I'm lucky to live in the safest city in America, but I also realize I'm as likely to get blindsided by a piece of rebar in Philly as I am to get shot. Crime is crime, not all crime involves guns and it's all bad. We don't need any more wedge issues in this country: the people want guns and if we can bribe some one-issue voters into electing good politicians by letting them have guns, I'm OK with that.