Violence in American politics is not new, but when it occurs, the nation is traumatized. Along with the victims of the shooting, American democracy suffers. This article explores the repercussions of the shooting that killed six and injured a US Congresswoman.
America wants to know who did it and why? Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was the target. Jared Lee Loughner is the accused gunman, and at this time, police believe he did not act alone. The shooter’s on-line rants are incoherent. He was rejected from the military, and his on-line writings reflect a form of conspiratorial paranoia. His behavior in high school was erratic, and he was suspended for posting inappropriate material on the Internet. But there were no indications that he wanted to target members of Congress.
Representative Giffords was shot while engaged in an activity called “Congress on your corner” where she would meet and greet constituents in her district. This type of exchange between members of Congress and the people they represent is the essence of our democracy. At the time of this writing, Congresswoman Giffords is fighting for her life in an Arizona hospital, but the shooting has killed six people, including a federal judge, John Roll, father of three, and a nine-year old girl. Christina Taylor Green, who had attended Giffords’ event to learn more about government, was born on September 11, 2001.
Media reports are unanimous about what kind of person Giffords is and what type of representative she has been for the 8th House district in Arizona. She has a reputation for being a hard-worker and well-liked member of Congress. She was the first Jewish person elected to public office in Arizona. A conservative (some would say moderate) Democrat who voted in favor of the health care bill, she voted to pull back on gun restrictions in the nation. (Arizona is one of three states that do not require a permit to carry a concealed weapon). She is married to Mark Kelly, a Navy captain and shuttle astronaut. She was elected to her third term as a US representative in 2010. Her district covers 114 miles of the border with Mexico, but she supported the Dream Act, a route to amnesty for young illegal immigrants that may have come over the border along with their parents.
What this a purely political act? It seems the motivation was more one of irrational behavior with a well-known target than one where the shooter was trying to make a political statement. The impact on how America does its political business will be considerable but is still unclear. The federal government and US Capitol police are looking at increasing the level of security provided to members of Congress in non-leadership positions. It is safe to say access to our representatives and senators will become more difficult than it is today, where only thin layers of security exist once members of Congress leave the relative security of the US Capitol and the office buildings that surround it. The shooting has weakened our democratic system in that the ability for representatives to stand for the views and needs of their constituents will be made more difficult. In fact, the House has suspended legislative activity for the coming week, presumably in honor of Representative Giffords, but also to reduce the fever pitch of the debate and to discuss how to proceed in this atmosphere of heightened security for members of Congress.