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On January 8, 2011, Jared Lee Loughner, 22, shot U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and 19 others at a “Congress in Your Corner” event at a Safeway supermarket in Tucson, Arizona. He killed six, including federal Judge John Roll, and wounded 14, including Giffords, who is shot in the head. Loughner has an extensive history of mental illness and substance abuse, yet is able to purchase two handguns and a high-capacity ammunition magazine legally at Sportsman’s Warehouse on November 30, 2010.

Words and Bullets

Bill C. Davis

Jared Loughner was like a piece of litmus paper - susceptible to the acidity and power of words as they swirl in a charged atmosphere - words that hang in the air and the air-waves. Certain psychologically compromised people move through the society like antennae and they hear, absorb and coil words into and around their pathology.

The shooting this past Saturday was a political act. The target was a member of congress. The fact she was a member of congress meant something to Jared Loughner. He didn't shoot his parents or a girlfriend or a teacher. Headlines and the law call this an assassination attempt, which means the state defines the act as not random.

One can argue that every assassination or political act of violent aggression comes from an unstable person. The nineteen hi-jackers could well be described as out of their minds - organized to be sure - but insane. How else can one categorize that behavior? The act was not dismissed as only madness - it has had conintuing political implications for the world. But each of them could be considered a Jared Loughner who, for whatever individual reasons, were susceptible to heightened rhetoric from unofficial, un-elected, self-appointed leaders.

Palin, Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly, Savage and fill in the blanks - Yes - they are culpable. And what and how they broadcast is not comparable to what Kucinich, Nader, Barabara Lee, Howard Dean, Bernie Sanders, Rachel Maddow and fill in the blanks, broadcast. It is qualitatively different. Cheney is not Chopra. It IS different.

As they all run for cover with further agitated rhetoric, there is no denying that Saturday was a three-dimensional manifestation of an energy. Words, like bullets, can enter the brain and lodge in the subconscious - a healthy or unhealthy subconscious. Interestingly and mercifully for the intended victim, the bullet meant for her passed through her brain.

But she was in the crosshairs. There's a powerful word - and for someone who lived in his subconscious - who confabulated signals into a mission - one can only imagine or deduce how much that and other words from the aforementioned posse found their way into Jared Loughner's design for justice and satisfaction.

If he is only mad - then skip the trial now and institutionalize him forever. Don't bother to call what he did evil - just call it sick and be done with it. But if there is a presumption of culpability on his part, his thinking process is available to be scrutinized. The things he wrote and posted on the internet for all of us to read, are allowed to be compared to similar rhetoric from people who are actually paid to post and broadcast their bullet points.

He is a 22 year old member of this society - born and raised here - educated in this educational system - attempted to join the military - wrote poetry - and seemingly obssessed with words and their stealth ability to move him in a direction that he thought he was resisting. We have a right and obligation to cross examine the words that did find their way into his compromised engine of thought - and which of those words became bullets that were broadcast in the front of a Safeway in the West.


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Bill C. Davis

Bill C. Davis

Bill C. Davis was a playwright, writer, actor, and political activist.  He has been a contributor to Common Dreams since 2001. Bill died on February 26, 2021, at age 69, after a battle with COVID-19. Bill's Broadway debut — “Mass Appeal,” earned two Tony nominations and became a staple of community theater. Bill wrote the screenplay for the 1984 film adaptation of "Mass Appeal," starring Jack Lemmon and Zeljko Ivanek. 

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