The Arizona shootings and Rep. King’s thousand-foot rule

So far, those killed and wounded in Arizona seem to have been the victims of a mentally unstable young man. He is in custody and in all likelihood will be convicted of murder or incarcerated in an institution for the insane for the rest of his life. This is, it seems to me, as it should be.

The tragedy in Arizona, however, has started self-serving debates over gun control, the vitriol in political rhetoric, and any number of other issues on which their advocates believe they can make cynical political hay by exploiting the nation’s grief and sympathy. We all, I think, must keep in mind that the evidence now indicates a man motivated by his odd perception of the world, and perhaps by mental illness, is responsible for the attacks . There is no credible cause here for actions that either would undermine the 2nd Amendment or further limit free speech on the basis of the unsupportable claim that the violence of political rhetoric is at an all-time high and contributed to the shootings. For those indulging in the latter analysis-by-assertion, they might want to read the scathing attacks on George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt by their political opponents, as well as by some of their own supporters.

One thing that does stand out in the aftermath of the Arizona shootings, however, is a bill to be introduced by Rep. Peter King (R-New York) which would keep legally armed Americans a thousand feet away from elected federal politicians and senior U.S. government officials. That is, Rep. King wants to put distance between himself and his colleagues and the legally armed people that he and his colleagues work for and are paid by. Seemingly, Rep. King assumes that there is a good chance that all legal American gun-owners share the apparent derangement of the Arizona shooter.

While I believe that Rep. King’s bill implicitly defames and discriminates against legally armed Americans, there is a chance that he is onto something if he senses that voters’ patience is running out with a federal government that seems incapable of doing anything worth doing. For much of our lives, Washington has failed to act effectively on most of the big issues; indeed, elected officials often seem unaware that such issues are key concerns for those who employ them.

Over the past thirty years, for example, Americans have been told repeatedly that the federal government was going to fix the social security and medicare systems that it consciously wrecked. They have been assured that a national energy policy would be implemented to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil producers. They have been told that border control and infrastructure reconstruction would be priority goals that would be achieved. They have been told that the growing federal debt is a threat to their childrens’ future and would be fixed. They have been told U.S. foreign policy is good for America and will benefit the world by greatly reducing the chance of war.

These promises have not been kept; indeed, all the problems cited have gotten much worse, and there is no genuine improvement in sight. Tom Paine once wrote — and I paraphrase here — that no people can put up with a government that is as bad as or worse than having no government at all. It may be that ordinary, sane Americans across the country are coming to this conclusion, whether or not they have ever read Mr. Paine on the subject.

Rep. King perhaps senses a despair among Americans on the subject of their government ever successfully addressing the problems noted above and many others. Indeed, Rep. King may be catching on to the fact that we — his employers — have ourselves caught on to the fact that he and his elected colleagues have no real interest in acting to benefit ordinary Americans, and promise to fix serious problems only to secure reelection. He may well be worried that more than thirty years of frustration among voters could lead to unforeseen and very ugly kinds of responses, and so distancing non-achieving politicians from their legally armed employers is now necessary.

Historians have written that the regimes of ancient Rome armed citizens because they trusted them, and that elected Roman officials and even — after the republic’s end — the emperor were expected to be accessible to the Roman people presenting their concerns. And in the 16th century, Nicolo Machiavelli wrote that wise and effective rulers trusted and armed their people. He also wrote that if rulers disarmed their people; put physical distance between themselves and the people; and/or spent most of their time in palaces or castles heavily guarded by their security forces, they were acting in a way that would turn the people against them.

It may well be that Rep. King’s bill will go nowhere, and that legally armed voters will still be able to approach and petition their elected federal employees. That would be, I think, a good thing. But access alone will not negate the frustration and anger of voters who seem increasingly to perceive their federal government as adrift, feckless, and amazingly spendthrift, and its elected officials as people who seek office only to stay in office as long as possible to make sure they get as much of the taxpayer-provided swag as they can grab. This is not a situation or a perception that bodes well for the future tranquility of the republic.