JEFF PEARLMAN

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Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona, guns and insanity

Before today, I had never heard of Gabrielle Giffords.

Her name meant nothing to me, and even if someone had told me she’s a congresswoman from Arizona, well, I probably would have nodded and moved on.

Tonight, however, Gabrielle Giffords means everything to me.

In case you just woke up from a 20-hour nap, Giffords, 40, had a bullet shot into her head this afternoon. It entered one side of her skull, burrowed through her brain and exited through the other side. As we speak, she is clinging to life at the University Medical Center in Tucson. I know nothing about neurosurgery. If she survives, however, I have a hard time imagining she’ll ever be the same.

Giffords was one of 18 people shot today at a Tucson supermarket. As of this entry, six are dead, including a United States District Court judge named John Roll. Giffords was holding a meet-and-greet with her constituents (known as “Congress on Your Corner”), when a gunman, identified as 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, started shooting away. One of the dead was Christina Taylor Green, a third grader. She was 9.

She was 9.

Although Loughner’s motives remain officially unknown, few people in Arizona doubt that the murderous spree was related to the state’s heated debate on immigration, and Gov. Jan Brewer’s xenophobic proposals on the best way to round up illegals. Giffords was an outspoken critic of the anti-illegal movement, and as a result had faced past death threats and the smashing of her office windows. Giffords’ district office was evacuated late Saturday after a suspicious package was found.

As always happens when something like this takes place, in the ensuing days and weeks we will hear gun opponents bemoan the myriad opportunities to easily obtain weapons in this country. We will hear the NRA fight back with spewings like, “Just because one person misuses a gun doesn’t mean …”

Enough.

This is not one person, and this has never been one person. Simply put, I am sick and tired and tired and sick of having gun-rights advocates scream and yell about the need for handguns, then being forced to watch as yet another horrible murder/crime/whatever takes place, then sitting through the maddening guns-don’t-hurt-people-people-hurt-people follow-up. I get hunting. I even get the desire for self-protection. But when are we going to wake up to the craziness of allowing people like Jared Lee Loughner a gun? When are we going to make it hard—and nearly impossible—for people to acquire weapons that kill? I hear all the arguments about “You need to be ready in case an intruder enters your home,” and I want to scream. Wanna know something—I don’t want a gun if an intruder enters my home. Because if I have a gun, and he has a gun, there’s shooting and someone (likely me or my family members) die. I’d much rather take the chance that he just wants money and goods, and will leave. Am I a coward? No, I’m sane, and I’m reasonable, and I’m not filled with the machismo bullshit that makes idiots puff out their chests as they purchase bullets by the crate.

Furthermore, we need to change the political climate in this country—now. Debate is wonderful. Wrestling with ideas is fantastic. But something dark has come upon us, and it is beyond troubling. Giffords won a very tight race in November against a Tea Party candidate named Jesse Kelly. During the campaign, his campaign featured the line: “Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.” In March, Sarah Palin released a map, featuring the words IT’S TIME TO TAKE A STAND, with 20 gun sights, one for each of the Democrats targeted by her political action committee SarahPAC. Literally, Palin placed a gun sight by Giffords’ name. Unspeakably terrible taste. (Giffords responded at the time: “I’ve never seen anything like it. The thing is, the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that action.”)

But this is where we are, who we are, and if we don’t change—soon—it’s not going to improve.

Alas, I digress. I feel so horrible for the families of the wounded and deceased, and I hope, somehow, we can honor what they’ve been through by doing something righteous for a change.

PS: Predictably, Palin released a statement, via friggin’ Facebook, saying her thoughts and prayers go out to the family. I beg of her—and others of her ilk—to use this to go through some serious introspection about the power of words and symbolism.

PPS: Here is a piece from the New York Times’ wedding section when Giffords married astronaut Mark Kelly.

PPPS: There’s nothing offensive about this image, right?