Politics & Policy

What Causes American Murders

The answer is not American politics.

The shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords by a paranoid schizophrenic substance-abusing NASA-truther conspiracy theorist described by his friends as “quite liberal” was laid at the feet of Sarah Palin, who is not a paranoid schizophrenic substance-abusing (she admits to hitting the occasional spliff back when doing so was legal in Alaska) NASA-truther conspiracy theorist described by anybody as “quite liberal.” The cited reason, you’ll recall, was Palin’s alleged contribution to a “climate of violence,” putting pictures of crosshairs on maps of congressional districts in which Democrats were to be intensely challenged, and urging her supporters to “reload.”

Professor Krugman of the Times, before the identity of the Giffords shooter even was known, opined that the shooting was a probable political assassination attempt and abominated Palin’s “infamous crosshairs,” and further went on to abuse the former governor for calling the shooting “tragic.” Michael Daly of the New York Daily News insisted that Palin had “blood on her hands,” in the shooting, because “anyone with any sense at all knows that violent language can incite actual violence, that metaphor can incite murder.” Representative Raul Grijalva of Arizona insisted that “Ms. Palin needs to look at her own behavior,” in the matter. Markos Moulitsas, the idiot troll prince of the Left, headlined a take on the shooting “Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin.” Jane Fonda, who still exists, insisted that “Sarah Palin holds responsibility, as does the violence-provoking rhetoric of the Tea Party,” a bit much from a woman famous for posing merrily with the artillery of a homicidal dictatorship, an instrument with non-metaphorical crosshairs used to blast non-metaphorical American soldiers off the map in large, non-metaphorical numbers. Salon’s Joan Walsh also blamed the crosshairs map, as did many others.

The man who shot Giffords turned out to be much more interested in what he believed to be a series of conspiracies including the use of grammar as a government brainwashing tool, faked space flights, and something he called “infinite currency.” But President Obama insisted that the shooting showed the need for greater “civility” in our political discourse — perhaps Rahm F*****g Emanuel suggested that “civility” line — even though the objective fact is that the underlying issue was not civility but lunacy.

And then, at the very moment when crowds in New York City are demanding “dead cops,” a gunman in Brooklyn, citing the controversy, gives the mob two of them — and the result is . . . silence.

As it happens, I agree with my colleague Charles C. W. Cooke that the instinct within some on the right to blame the crimes of Ismaaiyl Brinsley on the riff-raff shouting half-literate slogans around New York and other cities, and on profiteering race-hustlers such as Al Sharpton, is misplaced. But it was much more grievously misplaced when Palin was being put through the ringer, too: for metaphorical crosshairs. The mobs in New York, Ferguson, and elsewhere are not calling for metaphorical murders of policemen, but literal ones. (Literally, Mr. Vice President!) Palin was calling for energetic participation in the democratic process; the New York mobs are calling for energetic participation in mass murders.

This happens frequently. A census-taker is murdered, and people instinctively blame the Tea Party or Fox News. (Rather than the obvious suspect, given the man’s occupation.) Aurora shooting, Times Square bomb, Boston bomb, James von Brunn . . . the rush to link all of those crimes to the Tea Party, so-called right-wing extremism, etc., was remarkable, as was the prototype of the phenomenon, the campaign to blame the Oklahoma City bombing on Rush Limbaugh.

The New York shooter, Brinsley, has much in common with the neo-Nazi child-pornography enthusiast von Brunn, the shooter in the Holocaust museum attack. Not that he was principally motivated by backward political beliefs (Brinsley was fresh off a traditional, non-political murder of a girlfriend) and not that he was stewing in a climate that encouraged him (say what you will about the current political environment, it is not that of Germany in the 1930s) but something more prosaic: Like von Brunn — and, more important, like the great majority of the men who shoot people to death in American cities – he was a convicted, violent felon with weapons charges on his rap sheet. Brinsley had at least 19 prior arrests and did two years on a felony gun charge. In New York, about 90 percent of the murders are perpetrated by people with prior criminal records. The numbers are similar in other cities. Some suspect that Brinsley had undiagnosed mental-health problems; if he did, that, too, would be only ordinary. Like the man who shot Giffords, about half of all U.S. prison and jail inmates have mental-health problems.

Al Sharpton is a grotesque, anti-Semitic reprobate who would be shunned in a sane society rather than given a television show and a podium at presidential debates. The mobs howling for blood in New York are detestable lowlifes, the same as they were yesterday and the same as they’ll be tomorrow. But Al Sharpton does not cause murders. American murders are not caused by political speeches, and the share of our violent crimes that have a political aspect (Occupy bombers, anti-abortion killings) is statistically insignificant, another example of failing to consider the moose, i.e. failing to make rational risk calculations. (You are 57 times more likely to be killed by a bee or a wasp than by an alligator or a crocodile; moose are much more dangerous than grizzly bears.) We latch onto the exotic — in the case of Giffords, the possibility of an old-fashioned political assassination – because we are naturally drawn to drama or, in the case of Professor Krugman et al., because they are cynical manipulators with no moral compass. We know that Jonathan Chait lies in print with the blessings of his editors, that Harvard academics such as Amitabh Chandra lie in print with the blessings of their department chairmen, etc. Of course they will lie about violence when it suits them.

As conservatives, we expect – we know – that the Left will attempt to use anything and everything it can, no matter how distasteful, to advance its agenda. That is why every time there is a dramatic shooting, outfits such as the Brady Campaign can be relied upon to be firing off press releases before the blood is even cold, with no compunction about the fact that they are behaving as despicable ghouls. That is who they are.

But conservatives’ first duty is to reality, and the reality is that what causes American murders is our national failure to adequately monitor, restrict, or rehabilitate violent offenders with sub-homicidal criminal careers and our national failure to address seriously the role of mental illness in violent crime, private demons leading to public mayhem. It isn’t sexy, it isn’t ideologically neat, and it doesn’t provide much of an opportunity to engage in moral preening, one of the greatest and most destructive of all temptations. It may pay to campaign at Jane Fonda depths of stupidity — the inexplicable success of Barack Obama suggests very strongly that it does. But we cannot govern that way, and we surely cannot live that way — nor would any sensible person wish to.

If we could eliminate all the American murders rooted in political ideology, there would be (almost) no effect. If we could eliminate all the American murders committed by people with prior criminal records, there would be (almost) no murder. The relevant question in the matter of Ismaaiyl Brinsley isn’t what he was doing on Instagram but what he was doing on the street.

— Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent at National Review.


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