I was sitting in a little restaurant in rural southeast Arizona when I first heard news of the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords. I’d driven through Tucson only a few hours earlier, and nothing seemed out of place. There wasn’t the slightest hint something so horrible had happened, was happening, or was about to happen. When we heard, everyone at the table was stunned by the news.
Watching the news on TV and then searching Google News on my phone, I could see that stories differed greatly. There was no consensus about anything important, not even about whether she was dead. The number of other victims, the circumstances, and almost everything else varied greatly from source to source. I say almost because one thing remained consistent: each news outlet reported that the act was carried out with a firearm equipped with an “extended magazine.”
When a motorcyclist goes down and there’s an injury, the news is usually silent on the subject if the rider was wearing a helmet. If there is injury and no helmet, the story will say “the rider was not wearing a helmet.” Invariably. It feels as if news outlets coordinate to report motorcycle crashes in that manner. They may disagree about whether the rider was at fault, whether the rider died or survived, if someone else was involved, or about anything else, but they will get it spot on and according to formula when it comes to whether the rider had a helmet. I noticed that same kind of apparent coordination hearing and reading the words “extended magazine” over and over again. Were they softening us up to push some new law down our throats, just like they seem to do with helmets?
Sure enough, I saw Monday night that politicians intend to introduce a bill banning extended magazines. My suspicions were correct; politicians can be so low and so fixated on their own political agenda that they would capitalize on the death of one of their own to further their causes. I wasn’t surprised. I shouldn’t have been.
In our blame society, someone has to be at fault. We don’t even hide our love affair with blame any longer. One channel I saw had a ticker saying “who’s to blame for what happened to Giffords?” You could text or tweet your answers.
We love blame, but we’re terrible at placing it. People were texting in all kinds of things. Either nobody texted in the shooter himself, or the channel didn’t feel that was newsworthy. Blame isn’t really what matters anyway. What matters, something crystal clear from nearly everyone’s response to the shooting, is whatever each person thought mattered before Gabrielle Giffords got shot. In a laugh-out-loud-funny roundup, The Agitator lists some of the various things people have blamed.
Hate the Tea Party, especially that no-good Sarah Palin? Blame her and her political campaign’s damn crosshairs! Hate the devil’s lettuce? Blame marijuana! One of poor Gabrielle Giffords’s disgusting, insensitive colleagues even capitalized on her suffering by using it to further his agenda of not making politicians wait in line at airports.
I can’t find it, but I vaguely recall an Onion article with a title like “Libertarian Finds Most Recent Tragedy Perfectly Reinforces His Limited Government Beliefs.” There may have been a counterpart saying “Liberal Finds Most Recent Tragedy Perfectly Reinforces His Progressive Beliefs.” I wish I could find it (if I didn’t just make it up, that is).
All of this disgusts me. Gabrielle Giffords is a human being. She may be a politician, but when she was shot, I can bet she wasn’t thinking how there should’ve been a bill outlawing extended magazines. She wasn’t thinking about work. She was probably stunned, and if she thought anything, I can bet it was about the people and things she loves. It’s the same for the other victims, who don’t get nearly the press they should. These are people, just like you and me, whose lives have been shattered or in some cases ended by a deranged killer. Your agenda may seem important to you, but don’t push it at the expense of the memory of real, live, human beings.
If Gabby’s law, or whatever they’re going to call it, gets passed, it won’t do anything for her as a person. It will replace the reality of who she was and hollow out her name into nothing more than a shell some blowhards use to pass some ill-conceived and hurried piece of legislation that whittles away more of our rights. If she survives, and I truly hope she does, her body of work before and even in the future will probably end up overshadowed forever by what someone else did using her misfortune as a catalyst. People may even convince her to back the same legislation if she recovers, turning her into little more than a mascot.
I really do despise politics. I was upset to hear she was shot because she is a human being. The person with me who knew her cried and spoke of how wonderful she was. Now, what remains of the tragedy and her life may be consumed by politics as usual. Other elected officials will use the shooting of a real person, one who happened to be an elected official with enough name recognition for people to care, to separate themselves further from the plebians they rule. This will be another stepping stone for narcissistic politicians to rail against marijuana, TSA screenings, and, of course, extended magazines. It’ll be politics as usual when the bill passes and 30-round clips are a thing of the past. The human victims just don’t matter.