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Kevin ClarkeFebruary 07, 2011

In the aftermath of Jared Lee Loughner’s shooting spree in Tucson, Ariz., there has been much talk about who is to blame for the deaths and mayhem. The media punditry alternately pointed fingers and circled wagons, and the National Rifle Association rolled out its customary defenses. They need not have bothered. The U.S. public now seems somehow to tacitly accept the odd proposition that such occasional bloodletting is the price we pay for “a well-regulated militia.” Conservative commentators initially appeared on the defensive, none more so than the cable television celebrity and governor manquée Sarah Palin, who vigorously rejected any suggestion that the nation’s over-the-top political rhetoric had any role to play in the attack.

Ms. Palin argued that the only person responsible for the violence perpetrated by Jared Loughner was Jared Loughner himself—not the U.S. gun industry, not the N.R.A., not Arizona’s recently diminished mental health services, not you, not me. No; the only responsible party here appears to be a young man afflicted with a serious mental illness, who by all accounts has been drifting further away from reality for months; a young man who was not placed with an accountable mental health authority, was not reported by his family or community or by a college administration that banned him from school because of his erratic behavior; a mentally ill person who was still able to acquire a semi-automatic weapon with an extended magazine. Loughner alone is to blame for the deadly outcome in a Safeway parking lot.

Can we really get off the hook that easily?

Back in the Reagan era, when the nation first discovered the undeserving poor, another catchphrase similarly entered the public lexicon: “personal responsibility.” It is a phrase that has endured much cultural ebb and flow since Reagan was in office, now recovered again to continue its mission of obscuring the communal responsibility we share in this thing we call society.

Yes, Jared Loughner alone pulled the trigger. But the events that brought him to his terrible appointment with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her constituents thread through many lives, including yours and mine. In an over-eager embrace of our predominant culture’s rugged Calvinistic tendencies, thoroughly Americanized Catholics seem to wish away their faith’s communal, collectivist roots.

It is O.K. to avoid those “c” words if they smack too much of socialism for your tastes. Just remember the scriptural challenge voiced by Cain, one we are still required to accept anew. We are our brothers’ keepers, a responsibility we bear personally in our daily works and communally in the policies we promote and the structures we build that allow us to live justly, together, in society. On Jan. 8 in Tucson, we failed in those elementary obligations.

An Appreciation

The editors join me in offering our grateful appreciation to George Anderson, S.J., on his retirement from America’s editorial board. Since August 1994 he has offered our readers a distinctive voice with his down-to-earth friendship with the poor and victims of injustice. A former prison chaplain and inner-city pastor, he also possesses a special sensibility for questions of domestic policy and penned many of our editorials on issues from criminal justice to drug policy to migration. At America he was truly our conscience. We will miss him as he returns to parish work.

We also welcome to the editorial board Edward W. Schmidt, S.J., former provincial superior of the Chicago Province of the Jesuits and founding business manager of Company magazine.

Drew Christiansen, S.J.

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C Walter Mattingly
13 years 5 months ago
Kevin Clarke's essay on failed responsibilities surrounding the Loughner shooting spree is timely,  and like Loughner, some of his shots hit the target, and others seem wildly off. Clarke is certainly correct to wonder why the military which tested him, and particularly the community college which had received and studied several extremely disturbing incidents and reports from teachers and students alike, did not report their strong belief that Loughner was a danger to himself and the community to the appropriate Arizona authorities. While Clarke casts aspersions that Arizona had diminished capacity to handle such individuals, the media has reported that not to be the case, that Arizona had sound programs and procedures in place had they only been notified. But the military and particularly the college failed their public function in not passing on their information to the appropriate Arizona agencies. Thus poor judgment and communication on the part of the bureaucratic administration aware of the problem deprived Arizona's health department of the opportunity to deal with Loughner.
While there are questions whether Sarah Palin visualizing a target over an opponent as opposed to merely verbalizing the common metaphor of targeting the opposition, or Barack Obama stating to a crowd of supporters if the opposition brings knives, "we show up with guns" at their next political rally, are prudent, there is absolutely no evidence that Ms Palin or President Obama's inflammatory rhetoric contributed to the event in any way whatsoever. The fact that Palin was singled out and President Obama excluded is simply clear evidence of one side distorting and making partisan poliitcs out of a tragedy.
Another of Clarke's statements I would question is dating the "undeserving poor" to the Reagan administration. Other than President Reagan following up on the individual taking responsibility for himself along the lines of President Kennedy's famous "Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country," personal responsibility for actions that most Catholics have drummed into them from early grammar school on, I have trouble following Clarke's attribution to President Reagan. In any case, if the poor were undeserving of anything, America and other sources have quoted the landmark study Patrick Moynihan did of the destruction of the minority family by the welfare programs of the Great Society, for which he was vilified by fellow democrats at the time for being politically incorrect but since has been generally verified and thoroughly documented by the African American economist Walter Williams and others. Whereas 75% of African American families had both a mother and father in the home as heads of household in the 1950's, by the 1980's that number had declined to 37%.  That, and the woeful performance of our inner-city public school systems, are surely tragedies of which our poor are undeserving.
Linda Pfeifer
13 years 5 months ago
While it is true that "guns don't kill people, people kill people", I think people would find it more difficult to kill others if guns weren't so readily available. If Jared Loughner's weapon had been anything else, it is unlikely anyone would have died. Assault weapons and handguns can be banned without affecting hunters. These kinds of things will continue to happen here as long as the NRA controls our elected officials.
Marie Rehbein
13 years 5 months ago
"The U.S. public now seems somehow to tacitly accept the odd proposition that such occasional bloodletting is the price we pay for 'a well-regulated militia.'"

Let's look at it this way, if the people were not able to privately "keep and bear arms", there could still be a well-regulated militia.  They guns can be kept at the neighborhood armory.  It's pretty obvious, if unstated, that those who want no gun control are living in a fantasy world in which the government becomes their enemy and they join forces with their fellow Americans to take back democracy. 

The "village" raises the child whether it intends to or not.  Those communities characterized by paranoia and emphasizing other people's "personal responsibility" raise Jared Lee Loughners.  It seems that mental health services need to be provided to more than just those who act out, but also to those who insist on establishing public policies rooted in paranoid fantasy. 

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