There is nothing remotely amusing about this incident. There is never anything funny about terrorism, nor about racism, nor about murder. There is nothing funny about the fact that we live in a country where convicted felons are able to walk the streets with their rifles, either.
But here's what is funny -- in a dark, dark way -- about the events since then. A series of conservative commentators have started identifying Von Brunn as a "leftist." In their topsy-turvy world, the Nazis were all leftists; Muslim extremists are all leftists; and black is no doubt white, up no doubt down, and war no doubt peace.
Their argument, such as it is, boils down to the claim that since "Nazi" means National Socialist, Hitler was basically indistinguishable from Charles Fourier, Bronson Alcott, or those hippies who lived down the hill from us when we were kids. (Here's another way to get that the same thing: Hitler was a vegetarian; PETA supports vegetarianism; ergo, Bob Barker is a genocidal mass murderer.)
Underneath this stupidity, we hope, lies an honorable desire: to distance conservative principles from the actions of a crazed gunman. We will happily stipulate to this distance. After all, there is nothing about free markets or small government that leads logically to mass violence. (States' right, by the way, may be another matter). The Von Brunns of the world do not act on the values of William F. Buckley; they act because they are demented.
But having so stipulated, we have three concerns:
First, that the right does not extend the same courtesy to the left. There truly does seem to be a contingent which believes, or at least argues for rhetorical effect, that market regulation and government services lead inexorably to Stalin and the gulags. They would be wise to abandon this line of argument, at least until the pro-lifers stop murdering people.
Second, and somewhat abstractly, the limitations imposed on this discussion by a simple-minded description of political thinking, in which "left" and "right" are opposite poles, separated by a spectrum of intermediary positions. While racial segregation -- like sexism, or an aversion to gay rights -- may, technically, be a "conservative" value in the sense that it seeks to conserve a traditional ordering of American society, it really bears no connection to the more thoughtful discussion of markets or government. Likewise, the "liberals" who defend the right to free speech even of those who ideas they despise cannot recognize in this act of principle any relationship to Herbert Marcuse's railing against "repressive tolerance." Their "leftism" is nothing like his. All commentators, of whatever conviction, ought to reconsider this scheme.
Third, and most important, that the contemporary conservative establishment refuses to acknowledge how thoroughly integrated into itself the rhetoric of hatred has become, and how therefore its unofficial leaders do, even if inadvertently, prod the mentally defective to acts of violence. The leadership provided by entertainers like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter may in fact lead to violence, not because they counsel it directly, so much as because their language is designed to excite the base passions, and so inevitably excites the base passions of the crazed.