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I spent this morning tweeting about the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 17 others in Tucson, Arizona. However, given that the discourse seems to be shifting towards a politically fuelled blame game, I thought I might expand my thoughts here. I feel that, given my position as a non-American citizen, I have the freedom to do so in a way that is free of personal consequence, if not political bias. If anyone would like to carry this piece syndicated, or in a more structured form, click here to contact me. Feel free to link to this page otherwise.

Deadly Rhetoric





The furore surrounding the attack on Ms Giffords is not just outrage at an attempt to kill a public figure, but also the catalyst which sparked many worthy areas of debate: the dangers of rhetoric, gun ownership and the lines which should be drawn between figureheads and human lives.


Sarah Palin is being held responsible in a lot of ways, though she has no knowledge of this attack whatsoever. Why? Because she found it appropriate to use gun language in her rhetoric. It’s possibly just a coincidence that Sarah Palin put a crosshair on the area which the congresswoman represented, and soon after, Giffords was shot in a meeting of her constituents, so let’s ignore the causality which many are implying and focus on the rhetoric itself.

Palin is using motifs of violence and death to represent political victory. Putting aside the massacre, why should this be considered intelligent rhetoric in any way? To be repetitively rhetorical myself: how is that sensitive to the lives of our soldiers who die at the hands of weapons overseas, in a war instituted by a republican administration? How is it sensitive to the families of gun crime? Continuing on from today, can she look the parents of the 9 year old female victim in the eye and tell them that it’s just rhetoric? That she wasn’t actually proposing the use of a deadly weapon?

This is base level discourse from Sarah Palin, intended to stir up a following from lovers of the second amendment. The campaign itself has very little finesse, it simply equates political death with actual death as a means of strengthening the message. However, with followers like hers, is Sarah surprised that gun deaths are so frequent? Surely there is a stronger message that doesn’t require such metaphor.

Mark Kerr, on Sarah Palin’s Facebook post expressing her condolences to the family of Ms Giffords, writes: “Go, Sarah! Giffords deserved to die. She was a liberal, a Jew, a health care reformer, an enemy of the NRA, pro abortion and pro gay. What happened to the map? One down and 16 to go.”

What’s scary about this comment is not the blatant insensitive, partisan, racist, conservative, gun-toting, pro-life, homophobic nature of Mr. Kerr. He was being richly ironic.  Rather, we should be scared at the potential for his comment to be real. Mr. Kerr wrote afterwards:

I made a huge mistake this morning – I was very upset about the shooting of a wonderful politician who I greatly admire, Gabby Giffords, and I wanted to show how Sarah Palin and others who follow her beliefs are dangerous. I believe that if you follow their beliefs to their logical conclusions, you end up with lawless executions of people who are minorities or otherwise different from the mainstream. I joined Palin’s facebook page and, in the style of Landover Baptist Church [a satirical religious website], started making posts as if I were a Palin support. This has hugely backfired because people do not realize that I meant the exact opposite of what I was posting.

What Mr. Kerr did not count upon, was that hundreds of people would believe him to be a true Palin-supporter, because his ridiculous comment seemed to fall in line with what we’ve seen from Palin’s camp. He took the role of the serious, average man. Serious, average men are the deadliest exponents of propaganda, because there is nothing sinister about their intelligence, nor lack thereof. This comment replicates one which might take Palin’s rhetoric and the murder and put the two together, not as a means of blaming her, but applauding her for inciting the act.

Again, just to be clear, I’m not saying that there is a physical line of causality between Palin and the attack. However, in the right hands, her gun rhetoric does nothing but conspire against those of a different political leaning through violent symbolism. In the wrong hands, it has an obvious capacity for great evil.


Keep a list of those who say that rhetoric like this has no impact, and then be sure to ask them what the impact of heavy metal and video games had on the Columbine shooters. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the people who want to censor such things, without proof of impact, will defend gun rhetoric, the right to own guns, and paint this murderer as merely misguided, not well-armed.

This man did not kill innocent people just because he had the desire to do so. He was aided by the legal inadequacies of gun ownership. There’s a huge chance that up until the point he pulled the trigger, he was legally supported. He purchased a weapon, he carried a weapon while he conspired, and until someone got hit, he was protected by his constitutional right.

He had the right to be there with a gun. He had the right.

How do you argue that music, film and video games have the power to drive young men to massacre but not concede that political rhetoric has the same impact? How do you hang a noose around the neck of creatives who deal with such subject matter, and not hold politicians to the same standard?

Despite my own objections to her politics, we must be extremely wary not to say that Sarah Palin is responsible for deaths without further proof: that is just reactionary liberalism, not intellectual engagement. By saying that Palin has blood on her hands, at this early stage, we are committing a reaction to differing politics equal to labelling democrats with crosshairs.

With the blame game set aside, it is not ridiculous to consider why deadly rhetoric creates a culture wherein such tragedy can occur. Sarah Palin’s campaign targeted figureheads of the democratic party with little regard for the real lives those figures represented. She may not have incited a gunman to assassinate one of her enemies, but it’s not hard to imagine the impact of die-hard tea partiers on Giffords’ everyday activities.

The Right to Bear Arms

The other contributing factor to such violence is, of course, the availability of weapons. There seems to be a constant array of gun-owners waiting to spout the old saying, Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. That may well be the case, but there’s a further truth: people without guns kill less people. Sure, it’s not quite as catchy but without free access to weapons, accidental shootings cease, and hold-ups are carried out with knives and fists. The chance of fatalities drops severely when deadly weapons are taken out of the equation. To provide a further comparison, the push for nuclear disarmament rests on the idea that as the stakes increase, the chance of deadly conflict also increases. Those countries with strict gun laws wonder why the US hasn’t joined them, and the main reason seems to be one of freedom: the appropriate amendment states that citizens have the right to bear arms.

However, consider this: American citizens also have the right to vote, but they must register. They (mostly) have the right to marry, but they must enter a contract to do so.

Why can’t they maintain the freedom to bear arms, with stipulations that you must be of sound mind, that you must wait a set amount of days between purchase and pickup, and that you must have undertaken safe training. It should be impossible for anyone, whether they satisfy the requirements or not, to buy a gun one morning and use it to shoot someone that afternoon.

It should be, at the very least, extraordinarily difficult to purchase anything which carries the explicit purpose and capacity to kill. After Columbine, America sought people to blame. After today’s massacre, a great proportion is blaming the rhetoric of Sarah Palin exclusively. Why not look for preventative measures over momentary triggers? Why not treat the means, instead of the cause?

Quitting smoking after you have lung cancer is not a substitution for chemotherapy. Finding a scapegoat doesn’t stop the impact that a firearm in the wrong hands can have. No matter what Sarah Palin is forced to endure now will not bring back those who were lost today, it will not save those who will die tomorrow. The price of liberty should never exceed the cost of human life.

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5 thoughts on “Deadly Rhetoric: Sarah Palin and the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords

  1. Your article makes a lot of sense. From Australia, it seems a no-brainer to toss out all that ‘Right to Bear Arms’ rubbish and start living like a civilsed nation again.

    We had our own tragedy; google Port Arthur Massacre, Australia.

    What did our Right Wing Conservative Prime Minister do? He acted swiftly and forced the states to outlaw gun ownership except for exceptional reasons, instituted an amnesty and guns-buyback scheme and toughened import laws. Now you need a gun license to even own a replica. And our streets are not raging crime havens. We have reduced the suicide rate by males using fire-arms, armed crime and accidents involving children getting their hands on guns, and other crime has not increased.

    We have a gun lobby assisted by the USA NRA (who can’t keep their noses out of our business), who view our laws with great trepidation and are doing everything they can to help the our gun-nut associations to get the states to wind back the laws. So far they have not got very far as the parents groups, mental health lobby groups and anti-firearms groups are pretty quick to respond.

    If you have guns in your house in Australia (unless you live in rural locations) don’t expect any of the other parents to let their kids go to your house to play with your kids.

    I wish you well in your struggle to reclaim your nation from the vested interests of the firearms industry, but I am pessimistic. I think your legislatures are too weak.

    Anyway all the best, miracles may occur, I suppose.

  2. Great article and I agree with everything that fellow Aussie, Sandra, said.
    I’d like to ask those gun enthusiasts who are so concerned about their freedoms and civil rights, what about the victims’ rights?
    Is their right to own a gun more important than that little nine year old girl’s life? Or any of the victim’s lives?
    How many people have to die for them to get the message?
    As Sandra said, we had to go through the nightmare of Port Arthur before anything was done here and yet in the USA high school shootings happen all to often.
    Please tell the rest of the USA that the English aren’t coming to take their colony back, there is no need for those antiquated laws anymore.

  3. Sarah Palin should be investigated by a Grand Jury because she abused her 1st Amendment rights, by Insighting, the shooting in tucson, Arz.
    The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a citizen cannot abuse the 1st Amendment by shouting falsely that there is a fire within a movie threater. So why can’t the same principle apply to a peperson who uses a map with cross-heirs on a person who was eventually shot.
    Since facts are facts is Sarah Palin above the law?

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