On January 8, 2011, a tragic event occurred in Tucson, Arizona. Our congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, was shot, six others including Federal Judge Roll were killed, and numerous others were injured. The shooter, Jared Loughner, was taken into custody. When the Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik commented upon the atrocity, he said “vitriolic political rhetoric” contributed to hatred and violence. His remarks created a political debate over the tone of discourse in our government. Others wondered whether this shooting was just the result of a troubled young man. In some ways I believe that both of these are true, to an extent.
Currently I am a senior at University High School, but I vividly remember meeting the Congresswoman when I was in eighth grade. Our school had taken a trip to Washington, D.C., and Ms. Giffords had kindly agreed to meet us to give our class a tour of the capitol building. We shook her hand, took pictures with her and concluded that she was an overall great person. Ms. Giffords was also on the flight back to Tucson with us so we had more time to talk with her and learn about the political process. Congresswoman Giffords also attended University High, and I have heard stories from numerous teachers who taught her.
During my high school career I have learned that regarding politics, there will always be some disagreement or group of people left displeased. You can never appease everyone, but politicians always try to do what is right for the majority of people. For example, regarding gun control, no matter what stance the government takes, there will always be fanatics from both extremes who disagree with the final position. Politics has always been a volatile subject, and much like a match about to be lit, one small idea or phrase can set someone off and cause a huge argument that may result in violence. In my opinion, this could have happened to anyone, it was just really unlucky and sad that it had to happen to someone that I personally knew, appreciated and respected.
Another aspect of the current debate is the reasoning that Loughner was just a troubled young man who was mentally unbalanced. I think that, to an extent, this is also true. No sane person would ever go out and harm this many people. According to his teachers and classmates, Loughner always seemed a little different. In hindsight, many people have begun to re-think his prior actions in light of Saturday’s events. After he has done something crazy, people reason with themselves that he was always crazy and convince themselves of his insanity. If he truly was insane he would have never been able to purchase a gun and the 31-load cartridge that he used.
America today has become too violent. Politics has been getting more and more volatile and only recently have we seen the true meaning of “dirty politics.” I think we need to pause, and reflect upon what kind of nation we have evolved into, one where people are murdered needlessly every day, where tragic shootings can happen, where politicians live in fear of losing their lives due to some policy or stance a group of people disliked. We also need to look at how the rest of the world views our country, and whether they see us as a bunch of lazy, violent, unintelligent, and bigoted people. Hopefully this event will show people what we need to fix and that something like this should never be allowed to happen again.
- Neeko, age 17
I have very few elections to draw comparisons from, but in my opinion this most recent election was sickeningly volatile. Especially here in Tucson, the venom, hatred, and widespread personal attacks were disgusting. The unfounded personal attacks and false claims made between candidates about candidates were exceedingly disappointing.
This past weekend, when the tragedy occurred, I was visiting the nation’s capital. I was standing in the Emancipation Hall inside the capitol building taking a picture in front of the Father Kino statue when a CNN alert popped up on my phone stating that Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords had been shot along with nineteen other innocent people. I was standing feet away from Congress, on the steps of buildings built to signify liberty and justice, surrounded by beauty and the embodiment of my dreams for my future, and all I felt was sick: sick with sadness, with anger, and mostly with disappointment.
A tragic event such as this cannot be blamed on one factor alone. However, in my heart, I believe that the venom spread during political elections was a major factor. To an already unhinged person, these aspersions unquestionably exacerbated the madness. I think most young people experience some amount of disenchantment concerning our government as we tend to be idealistic and look at slow political steps as failures; we believe that all problems are fixable. However, this massacre is not an illustration of American youth, it is not an illustration of Arizona, and it is not even just an illustration of the product of vitriol and political attacks. It is an illustration of how we as a nation failed to realize that our actions and words have consequences, and failed to recognize the signs of a troubled young man.
I believe that this will serve as a wake up call to Arizona as well as to our nation. Of course, there will always be heated debate and of course there will always be anger and disappointment. But if we all can come to an understanding that education and the promotion of peace are never unnecessary, and that venom and vitriol unfortunately may garner votes but are never good for the public, then maybe some good can come out of this unnecessary and sickening tragedy. Maybe the unnecessary actions of one sick individual will promote the change that is necessary. I hope this is true, but I also ask: shouldn't we look to promote positive change before tragedy strikes, not after?
- Olivia, age
Today my stepmother and I dropped off flowers at Ross Zimmerman's house (the father of Congressional aide Gabe Zimmermann, who died in the shooting). He and my dad are close, and my dad talked to me about Gabe and what a great family he came from. I was really interested in formulating some comments about the shooting on Saturday, but I got home and found that I couldn't. It almost felt disrespectful because the issue feels suddenly too close to home. When I try to compile my thoughts I think about Ross talking about Gabe and I feel sick... I don't feel capable of writing about the issue in general, but just about him.
- Nina, age 17
Neeko, Olivia and Nina are all seniors at University High School in Tucson, Arizona.