We should begin by saying that the Tucson massacre is especially emotional for us. Much of Fr. A.'s family -- parents, siblings, an in-law and a dog -- live in Tucson, right near the UofA. For all we know, Giffords is their congressional representative, and they shop at the Safeway. This fact has prevented us from thinking too deeply about the event, and even from following the news too closely. But still.
After the shooting, there was a rush to assign blame. The liberal end of the media chose Sarah Palin, if only because her name seems to drive up click-through rates. The conservative end of the media observed that liberals also use inflammatory language, and offered a few choice objects of blame. Other likely objects -- perhaps they have already been blamed somewhere -- include Arizona's gun laws (which gave Loughner a weapon), Arizona's school system (which denied Loughner a psychiatric intervention) and Loughner's own parents (for obvious reasons). And we imagine that Antonin Scalia is blaming all the people who attended the constituents' meeting, on the grounds that, had they been exercising their rights under the Second Amendment, they could have shot first.
We ourselves indulged in the same unsavory behavior, in ways that are entirely characteristic. Our first impulse was to blame Ronald Reagan, on whose watch so many public mental hospitals were shuttered, and so many crazy people put back onto the street. Our second was to blame the AELC, because that's just the way we roll.
This is all nonsense, of course.
The Tucson massacre does not, pending further information, appear to be the product of a vast right-wing conspiracy, nor even of the deeply debased condition of American political discourse. While it might possibly have been averted by stricter gun laws and a better public mental-health system, it is equally possible that neither would have done the trick in this particular case. We can't know such things.
And yet we at the Egg cannot shake the sense that there are, broadly speaking, two kinds of nation. In one kind, violent crimes are comparatively rare, and mass murders are vanishingly so. These include most European countries and Canada. In the other, violent crimes are common enough, and mass murders are, if not a daily occurrence, at least a frequent one. These include much of Africa and Asia -- and, notably, the United States.
Oh, it's not quite so simple. First, some of the most atrocious mass murders by governments have taken place in Europe (especially if one includes the USSR). And much of the American rationale for gun ownership is predicated, openly or not, on the right of the individuals to protect themselves from government coercion. So somebody might argue that our occasional massacres and killing sprees are the signature of a free society. (By "somebody," of course, we mean Scalia.)
Second (and less laughably) the numbers are not entirely clear. We'd be very interested in a breakdown of mass violence per capita, so that population (and density thereof) could be reflected. And although the US is the far-away leader in school killings, its competitors do appear to be European countries and China. (More schools, we imagine).
Still, hesitations duly noted, here is the bottom line: America is a violent nation. It is noticeably more violent than the European (and Anglo-Saxon) nations with which we customarily assume a cultural compatibility, and bears a discomfiting resemblance to the nations that many Americans privately dismiss as "uncivilized."
This disturbs us, and we hope it disturbs you. We hope it disturbs all Americans, enough to encourage some deep thinking about our private and public conduct, our ideas of freedom and responsibility, our care for people with mental illness and, yes, our laws.