Why So Unusual?

I’m sure we’ve all been following news about the recent events in Arizona. Saturday’s shootings were especially personal for me because Gabrielle Giffords is my parents’ representative in Congress, and my folks live a short distance from the Safeway where everything happened. My mother learned about the shooting when a concerned friend called, frantic, wanting to make sure she was okay. As it turned out, my mom had gone grocery shopping that very morning at a Safeway not far from the one in question.

In the days since, I’ve read a great deal of material about the shootings. I’ve been particularly moved by what’s come out about the victims themselves (especially Judge John Roll), and by the heroism of those who stopped the perpetrator from firing more rounds. I’ve also been appalled by attempts to ascribe the attacks to some sort of “climate” generated by those on the Right, especially after details about the shooter became known. Even though his victim was an elected official, he was clearly not motivated by ideology or partisanship.

I’ve noticed, however, that one question has gone largely unanswered: why is it that ideologically-motivated attacks on American elected officials are so exceedingly rare? In a sense, this is the “dog that didn’t bark” of American public life. That dog didn’t even bark in the current instance.

It took an article-length article to organize my thoughts. The good folks at MercatorNet have published the piece here. It begins like this:

In the hours following the horrific shooting at Gabrielle Giffords’ “Congress on Your Corner” event in Arizona, the rush to explain the perpetrator’s motivations began. Giffords had recently survived a hotly-contested re-election challenge from a Tea Party-backed candidate who was her ideological mirror image. In the absence of hard information about the shooter, it might be natural to wonder if he had been discouraged at the election outcome or otherwise inspired by the Tea Party’s anti-Washington rhetoric. Indeed, many on the political left ─ including the local county sheriff ─ speculated aloud in just that manner.

Although the investigation is ongoing, the principal suspect is actually a registered independent who was so disconnected from politics that he didn’t bother to vote in the 2010 congressional election. By all accounts, Jared Lee Loughner appears to be an isolated, deeply mentally ill young man suffering from multiple psychoses.

As analysts continue to debate the reasons for the Arizona events, a potentially far more interesting question has remained largely unasked: Why are violent attacks on American elected officials so exceedingly rare?

But please do read the whole thing. And comment if you feel so inclined.

One thought on “Why So Unusual?

  1. More than anything else, what this attack points to is that it's darned near impossible to institutionalize even the obviously insane in this country. They actually have to act out violently before anyone can do anything.

    That's stupid, but that's the situation.


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