A nation’s need for blame

There are times when even the capture of the culprit fails to quench people’s thirst for justice. This usually happens in the wake of horrific, mind-bending crimes like the shooting in Arizona last weekend that killed six people and injured scores of others. The gunman’s intended target, a congresswoman, has barely escaped with her life, for now.

But in the heated aftermath — sparked by comments by the Tucson sheriff, who was a close friend of two of the victims — there seems to be a wider indictment being brought by some in the media. He suggested that a general political climate of intolerance caused these events.

These comments seem to be inspired more by grief over losing a couple of close friends than any actual evidence about the motivation for these crimes. Following suit, pundits and commentators began to blame everyone from Sarah Palin to Rush Limbaugh to Arizona’s gun law and even the gunman’s poor parents for what happened. Almost everyone is taking the blame, except, of course, for the gunman himself. Of the scant evidence that has emerged about the troubled shooter thus far, he seems to be a mentally unbalanced loner with a sick celebrity obsession and a penchant for violence. This act does not bear the markings of a rational person with any coherent political viewpoint or party affiliation.

It might almost have been better had the gunman escaped and was now the subject of an international manhunt — like Osama bin Laden. Only then, in his absence, would he have borne the blame for his acts. Instead, the nation’s desire for retribution has not been slaked. It was almost too easy to catch the actual criminal. The lynch-mob is on the march for more blood. And even an innocent bystander can be falsely blamed.

On a broader level, however, perhaps the desire to lay blame for the Tucson event points to a collective desire to reconcile the abnormal. Every effect must have a cause, and usually when events such as this catch our national attention, we assume the causes must also be societal. Yes, the gunman bought the gun legally at a gun store. Yes, we live in an age when political rhetoric — sometimes inflammatory rhetoric — fills the airwaves. And yes, we live in a society where the mentally insane are not imprisoned before they commit crimes. All of these factors could have contributed in some way to the very specific event that happened in Tucson.

But before going on the lynch-mob, we must ask ourselves whether the alternatives could, in any even remotely foreseeable way, lead to similarly horrible outcomes.


Armstrong Williams is on Sirius/XM Power 169, 7-8 p.m. and 4-5 a.m., Monday through Friday. Become a fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/arightside, and follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/arightside.