January 12, 2011

As The Smoke Begins to Clear . . .

A few random thoughts about the fallout from Tuscon.

As we proceed through this week, we're learning more and more about the alleged perpetrator of the mass shooting in Tuscon last week, and politicians have already launched into action mode, doing what we always do in the face of The Problem - propose more laws, however ill advised:
Texas Democrat Rep. Rubén Hinojosa said Monday that he is open to joining Pennsylvania Democrat Rep. Robert Brady in support of a bill to curb speech that could be perceived as 'threatening' to public officials.

'The level of discourse is out of control,' Hinojosa said. 'Yes, I would certainly sit down with him and look at the wording and see how we could strengthen it. There’s a need to tone down the rhetoric that occurred here these last few years. In my opinion, I would support legislation, yes.'

Brady told the New York Times on Sunday that he would seek legislation banning certain types of speech in reaction to the weekend shooting in Tucson, Ariz. that left Democrat Rep. Gabrielle Giffords injured and killed six others.
When I saw this, and some other things around the Web, I was going to write an insightful analysis of the First Amendments, threats, and the limits of restrictions on "hate" speech.  But Eugene Volokh beat me to it.  And he's a First Amendment expert, to boot, so just go read his piece.

Meanwhile, over at Reason, Ronald Bailey examines a 1999 study of political assassins (and would be assassins) that suggests that they aren't all that political after all:
Politics apparently plays very little role in most attacks and would-be attacks against public officials. The researchers found that 'fewer than a tenth of subjects who acted alone were involved with militant or radical organizations at the time of their attack or near-lethal approach.' Instead, they seek notoriety, revenge for perceived wrongs, death at the hands of law enforcement, to bring attention to a perceived problem, to save the country or the world, to achieve a special relationship with the target, to make money, or to bring about political change. Less than a quarter of the attackers developed escape plans. In fact, more than a third wished or expected to die during their attack.
Although one can dicker about whether trying "to save the country or the world" is a political motivation, it is clear that the motivations of such folks are much more complex than the traditional left/right narratives would lead us to believe.

Speaking of complex, one of the odder bits of Loughner's publicly available statements is his obsession with grammar.  Here's a look at where that might come from.  Some truly weird stuff in the realm of tax protesters and "sovereign" citizens.

Finally, we've heard today from Sarah Palin for the first time since Saturday's attack.  Palin has been criticized for the infamous rifle sight poster of targeted Congressional districts, one of which was Giffords (Giffords objected to the imagery at the time).  I think the rush to connect the rhetoric of Palin and others to the shooting are, at the least, premature.  Nonetheless, Palin does not cover herself in glory, calling the criticism of hers and others on the right "blood libel" and demanding that:
it is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.
That's pretty rich, coming from someone who blames everybody but herself for her 2008 campaign flame out.  As for "blood libel," that's the worst choice of words in public since Bush talked about a "crusade" in the wake of 9/11.  I'll give Palin the benefit of the doubt and assume she's just ignorant about the history of blood libel.  I'd guess that Giffords, who is Jewish, fully grasps it.

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