I wish I could start my first post of the New Year on a more positive note, but the events of 8 January 2011 dictate otherwise. On that Saturday, a lone gunman descended upon a shopping center’s parking lot with one thing in mind – violence. Instead of looking at just one aspect of this tragic day, I want to give you a series of thoughts about not just the attack, but what has happened since then.
Shortly after 10:00am MST, Jared Lee Loughner opened fire during a “Congress on Your Corner” event at a local Tucson, Arizona shopping mall. While details about the motive behind Loughners’ actions are still unclear, we know the following:
- Loughner is a 22 year-old male with a history of low-level run-ins with the law and school authorities at Pima Community College.
- Prior offenses include drug possession and inappropriate actions in class (prior to dropping out in 2010).
- Loughner had a grudge with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords since 2007 after asking her a question at another “Congress on Your Corner” session. He asked her “How do you know words mean anything,” to which she did not have an answer to.
- He left his home the morning of the shooting with a black backpack, with his father chasing after him out of concern over what was in the bag.
During the brief attack on the crowd, Loughner is accredited with shooting 20 people, killing 6 in the process. One of those killed was Judge John Roll, the chief Judge for the U.S. District Court for Arizona. He was attending the event to provide input on existing legal issues facing the Courts. Also killed in the attack was: Gabriel Zimmerman (staff member), Phyllis Schneck, Dorothy Morris, Dorwin Stoddard, and Christina-Taylor Green (9-years old).
Of the injured, Rep. Giffords was the most serious of the 14 with a gunshot to the head. She was initially reported by the media as dying on the scene, but she in fact survived the attack. In the past few days, we’ve heard reports of her miraculous recovery after such a near-fatal wound. Doctors are trying to play down her rate of recovery over fears of building up the hopes of media watchers, but the fact that she appears to respond to stimuli and have controlled arm and leg movement is a very positive sign.
The initial reaction to the news was understandable shock. As a society, we are naturally drawn to and emphasize with large scale tragedy. We had similar reactions to the shootings at the Columbine High School in 1999 and at Virginia Tech in 2007. News channels played repeating images of the crime scene and medical helicopters transporting the injured to the local hospital. As word of Loughner being subdued by attendees of the political event, the discussion shifted from the injured and dead to questioning the motives of the attack.
Many pundits started questioning if the heated political rhetoric somehow stirred Loughner to attack a sitting elected official. With a heated mid-term election taking place just a few months back, allegations of a politically-motivated attack by a disgruntled member of the Tea Party or Republican began to spread. As this line of thinking progressed, images of Sarah Palin’s political strategy for the 2010 elections, targeting key districts where victory by Tea Party or Republican candidates was possible, came into question.
Concerns of future politically-motivated attacks led to politicians proposing the following:
- Jason Chaffetz proposing armed security details for key politicians (if not all)
- Peter King proposing that no firearms to be allowed within 1000 of elected officials
- Carolyn McCarthy proposing banning the sale of high-capacity magazines for firearms
- Heath Shuler is planning on carrying his own firearm at public events
- Jim Clyburn is calling for the implementation of the Fairness Doctrine
On Wednesday night, a memorial service was held at the University of Arizona to honor those that were killed in the attack. The 90 minute production included speaking segments by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, Secretary Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Eric Holder, and President Obama. In addition, Daniel Hernandez gave an emotional address about how he was not a Hero. Hernandez, an intern for Giffords, is credited with saving the Congresswoman’s life by applying pressure to her wounds and cradling her head so she wouldn’t drown on her own blood.
The atmosphere of the memorial service was more of a pep rally rather than a solemn moment. During presentations by the speakers, the crowd would erupt in cheers and random indiscernible cry outs of cheer. This response threw some of the speakers off, including the President. As noted by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in regards to the pep rally atmosphere, “I will say that I read the speech several times and thought that there wouldn’t be a lot of applause if any.” Others noted how the event seemed more like a campaign event, noting coordinated shirts, brochures, and signs with a logo stating “Together We Thrive.”
Many are hoping that the events of this week lead to a change in the tone of political discussion across the nation. Unfortunately, I don’t think this will be the case, nor do I think that it should. Not that I want to hear vitriol thrown back and forth, but the people and our politicians should be able to debate their positions passionately. It is this tone and passion that carried Obama into office and has branded the no-nonsense persona of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
In addition to the future of political discussions, there will be continued investigations into the attack along with court cases by those impacted by Loughner’s actions. In researching this story, I came across Sacramento injury lawyer Thomas Geraghty’s site discussing cases involving brain injury. He states:
The legal process for recovering personal injury damages for persons who have suffered a traumatic brain injury involves not only recovering the cost of existing medical treatment and pain and suffering, but also recovery for future medical expenses, lost earning capacity, loss of family and social relations, future psychological and/or psychiatric care, and many other complicated forms of damages.
This perfectly describes the changes facing Giffords as she recovers from her injuries, though I doubt she will have to sue Loughner for damages. Her care will be provided for by the Government since she was injured while performing her duties. Loughner won’t be as lucky. In his actions, he killed a Federal Judge, making him eligible for the death penalty under Federal Law. Whether or not he will face any of the other cases filed by those injured in the attack or by the families of those who lost loved ones is irrelevant in the mind of the Federal Government. All it might do is delay his execution (if assigned) if they decide to allow the families to have their time in court.