The Tucson shootings, the Arizona massacre, the shooting rampage. The media, far from being a faceless monolithic institution, has come up with a number of ways to refer to the recent tragedy in Arizona, in which 19 people were shot and several died.
Even more varied, however, are the number of ways people are interpreting the incident. The Arizona shootings have become, in a way, a sort of Rorschach inkblot test. People see different things in them, depending on the ideas they already have.
Within hours of the Tucson shootings, commentaries popped up suggesting the nation’s toxic political rhetoric was to blame for the deaths and injuries wrought by Jared Lee Loughner. And the things people said during the most recent few election seasons have gone far over the top, although I can’t honestly recall whether the vitriol was really any worseÂ than it had been in previous years. How can that be measured?
Public officials saw security issues in the inkblot almost immediately, reviewing their security practices and wondering what they could differently, more safely, without shutting out their constituents. Should they be hosting these small-venue events? How could safety be improved?
Then Loughner’s writings and YouTube videos were found, and people began to see mental illness in the inkblot. What was someone who was schizophrenic, or if not that, so obviously in need of help, doing wandering around on his own? If his classmates, professors and parents saw the signs of mental illness, was there anything they could have done to avert the massacre? Was there anything that anyone could have done?
Gun control advocates and gun rights advocates see firearms in the inkblot. Some of them even see the same firearms, because no one really wants people with severe mental illnesses to have guns. Was there any way Loughner could have been prevented from getting his hands on a weapon? Would changing Arizona’s permissive gun control laws make any difference?
Sometimes the inkblot shows questions about capital punishment or presidential leadership. Maybe all these questions are helpful. Maybe they’re not. And maybe the inkblot will swirl into something else again tomorrow.