Arizona gunman exception, not example, for Americans

Andrew Justus

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was shot in the head and wounded in Tucson, Ariz. on Saturday, and U.S. District Court judge John M. Roll was among six killed. The true motives of the 22-year-old gunman are still unknown, according to the Pima County Sheriff’s Office.

Some have speculated the young gunman was simply a crazy person who got hold of a gun and some sort of transportation. Others, including Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik, think the shooting is the result of a troubled mind nudged over the edge by insightful statements made by political figures on TV and radio.

Sheriff Dupnik, a friend of both Giffords and Roll, blamed the intense vitriol active in the recent political climate, including rhetoric used by Sarah Palin and Sharron Angle. Angle in particular spoke of resorting to what she called “second amendment remedies” if the 2010 election did not go as her supporters hoped.

No matter the reason for this unnecessary violence, there is one thing which we can all take away from this incident: in America, we settle our political disagreements by going to the ballot box, not the ammunition box. Save for a few incidences by certain infamous individuals (Lee Harvey Oswald, John Wilkes Booth, etc.), we have always been an example to the world of how to peacefully work through our political disagreements. Unlike the Spanish, we have never had a bloody coup to unseat the government. Unlike British, we don’t riot in the streets when our tuition is increased. And unlike the Chinese, we don’t imprison people who disagree with the government.

We have a good thing going here in America. We have a government designed from its outset to be a marketplace for ideas. Our federal legislature allows for our representatives to try to sway one another on the merits of various public policy in open debate before they finally bring legislation to a vote. All of our elected officials – from the city clerk all the way to the president – can be contacted through the mail, telephone and email by ordinary people who wish to effect change in their government.

Moving ahead, we should remember if in politics things don’t go our way, there is always a way to petition the government to redress our grievances. If taxes increase, if speed limits change, if the military is somewhere you think it ought not be, anyone can write their congressman, senator or mayor to share their ideas on the matter.

We should also remember those with whom we disagree with politically are still our fellow citizens, and a diversity of ideas and opinions is essential to a functioning democracy. Gen. George S. Patton once said on the importance of a diversity of opinions to effective leadership: “If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking.”

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