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Arizona Shootings: The Culture of Guns

New York Times columnist David Brooks chided the media for making the “extremely murky” link between political rhetoric and actual violence. Jon Stewart says “you don’t know what a troubled mind will get caught on.” And conservative radio talk hosts have characterized Jared Lee Loughner as an isolated case, while their liberal critics are seizing on the tragedy for political gain.

In all of the passionate takes on what led to the tragedy, up to now relatively little attention has been paid to gun control, and just how Loughner was able to obtain a semi-automatic weapon while other institutions, like the military and his community college, raised red flags.

There are signs today that the debate is shifting. Rep. Peter King, a Republican from New York, plans to introduce legislation that would make it illegal to bring a gun within 1,000 feet of a government official. That is a pretty broad reach if you are in a major downtown area populated by government buildings, but the details of the legislation have not been released. And even though King is a prominent Republican, we’ve yet to see the full lobbying strength of the National Rifle Assn. respond to the aftermath of the tragedy in Tucson.

Meanwhile, despite criticism of those who have connected the shootings to the public discourse, Pima County Sherriff Clarence Dupnik unabashedly continues to make the point. He tells CNN, “Tucson and Arizona and the rest of the country have become very divided by a lot of the rhetoric that exists, particularly over the radio waves and some TV air, which is designed, in my opinion, to inflame the public against public officials, elected officials, government and the administration. And that kind of an atmosphere, in my opinion, influences people who are not stable — people who have troubled personalities.”

But he’s also critical of the culture at large — including violence in entertainment.

“We were taught to respect authority, and parents and, basically, everything,” he said. “And, in my opinion, that’s one of the most basic things that has changed in our society: People don’t have much respect for anything. They use foul and vulgar language. Violence is — it fills all the movies. It’s hard to watch a movie that’s not filled with violence and vulgarity and sex.”

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