La Opinión: What We Can Learn from Tucson Tragedy

La Opinión: What We Can Learn from Tucson Tragedy

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LOS ANGELES -- Last Saturday’s massacre demands that we reflect on the state of our society and the conditions that would drive an apparently unstable young man to open fire during an informal political gathering in a community setting. The fact that the target was Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., adds an element that is impossible to ignore since it occurred during a period in which political discourse is particularly vile.

Giffords, a conservative Democrat who favors immigration reform, has been the victim of threats and attacks against her office, especially after her vote for healthcare reform. During last year’s political campaign, former Alaska Senator Sarah Palin —whose motto is "Don’t retreat, reload"— used crosshairs on Giffords’ seat in a visualization of congressional districts targeted for Republican takeover. At the time, Giffords’ opponent held campaign meeting at a shooting gallery.

This doesn’t mean that the angry political climate generated by the far right is responsible for the Arizona tragedy. However, as Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said, the "vitriolic" nature of current political debate —especially in Arizona— can lead an unstable person to this sort of action.

It isn’t clear yet if the suspected gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, had political motives. What is known is that he has a troubled past and appears to be mentally unstable with delusional ideas mixed with anti-governmental rhetoric. Despite signs of mental instability, he was able to legally purchase the gun he used in the massacre thanks to Arizona’s gun laws, the most permissive in the country.

There is no question that this tragedy will have many repercussions. Among them, we worry about the impact on our democratic system, where direct contact between lawmakers and those they represent is irreplaceable. It is natural that congressmen and women are worried about their security and that they are taking appropriate precautions. Yet, this incident must not result in our nation's legislators isolating themselves from their constituents.

What happened in Tucson was a confluence of factors. No question, our politicians’ security must be addressed. It would be a tragic mistake, however, to leave it at that. The victim of this massacre is our society as a whole, represented by those killed and wounded. For them —and for us— security for legislators does little. The way to protect our citizens is with appropriate gun control and with constructive political debate that is neither vitriolic nor violent.