Columbine, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the Wild West

January 8, 2011 at 4:31 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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The common denominator emerging early on in the mass shooting Saturday that critically injured Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and school shootings such as Columbine is the Wild West.

In examining school shootings for my book Columbine: A True Crime Story, I found that they often occurred in the South and the West of the United States. In these two regions there is a character trait, confirmed in psychological studies, of a “culture of honor.” It means that when someone in these regions feels their honor has been violated, they feel it is appropriate to retaliate with violence. The other point here is that the perpetrator takes it upon him or herself to level the revenge. There is a name for that too: Being your own sheriff.

News on the Arizona suspect so far seems to include little more than a name: Jared Loughner. The snap judgements are that the shooting may have been politically motivated.

The New York Times noted that Giffords “has been an outspoken critic of Arizona’s tough immigration law.” And reports indicate there are five to six dead, including, “John M. Roll, the chief judge for the United States District Court for the District of Arizona,” according to The Times. “He had been involved in immigration cases and had previously received death threats.”

School shooters are prompted to take revenge against those they feel have made them outcasts or slighted them. The idea in Arizona would be that the shooter was motivated to seek his own sort of political justice for policies he opposed.

A further read of The New York Times article adds more to the “culture of honor” thesis in this case emanating from the South and West, although that term is not actually mentioned or alluded to in the story. “Last March, after the final approval of the Democrats’ health care law, which Ms. Giffords supported, the windows of her office in Tucson were broken or shot out in an act of vandalism,” The Times notes. The paper adds that other Congress members had also been threatened, and names Washington Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat, from yet another Western state.

Another idea being pushed early on in this story is that such violence may be prompted by Republicans and/or right-wingers. Here The Times notes:” During the fall campaign, Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate, posted a controversial map on her Facebook page depicting spots where Democrats were running for re-election; those Democrats were noted by crosshairs symbols like those seen through the scope of a gun. Ms. Giffords was among those on Ms. Palin’s map.” I would add that Palin comes from another Western state: Alaska.

There is one other thing I found hard to ignore in The Times article about the shooting: “Television coverage showed a chaotic scene outside a normally tranquil suburban shopping spot.”

The other common denominator among school shootings is that they occur in suburbs and small towns, but that may be a topic for future discussion as more information emerges.

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