The Economist writes in last week's edition (technically still this week's until tomorrow) about the blame game, saying that opportunists should not focus on the rhetoric of American politics, but on the gun laws themselves.
There is no doubt that banning guns in America would contribute a great deal to keeping armed violence down domestically - it is simple logic, less guns, less opportunity for violence and gun accidents. To completely dismiss the rhetoric, or almost completely as in this case, is to isolate only one part of the problem, albeit the biggest one, and ignore the others.
As the article notes, and as people have noted when writing about the Loughner shooting, what is commonly known, is that the right to bear arms is a part of American culture, at least in some circles. It is a part of the constitution (although the interpretation of said amendment can vary and it could be argued that much stricter gun laws could be put in place without violating the constitution) and an issue that has created social movements to ensure the protection of the second amendment and the gun laws that have come out of it. For some people, it is an essential right to own guns and to be able to use them to protect oneself and the family.
The issue is, though, that in a society, or parts of a society, where people have a tendency to invoke violence instead of diplomacy when faced with a threat, or people threatening to use violence through weapons, it creates a hostile environment. There is a reliance on guns and what is seen as the inherent right of every citizen of the United States of America to bear arms. This is as much a problem as the actual fact of owning guns. If people see it as their right to bear arms to protect themselves, they also see it as their right to use them. If a violent rhetoric is then used as a deterrent or as a threat and is combined with the notion of an unalienable right to bear arms, this could lead to trouble.
That it is a problem that guns are so easy to come by, is not something I would deny at all. That the gun control laws are not working the way they should be when Loughner, who allegedly should not have been able to buy a gun because of previous army troubles, can do so anyway, is not something I would argue against at all either. In fact, being Swedish and not understanding why people would at all want to keep weapons in their house that can kill other people, not to mention be used against themselves, I would absolutely argue that legislation that allows this is nothing but counterproductive and idiotic. Why would any state want to give its citizens the easy access to weapons to kill each other, or for children to be accidentally shot to death? It's beyond me. Point being, I do not have a problem with the Economist's call for banning guns. I think it is a sensible argument.
It is when the legislation becomes separate from cultural and social influences that I start seeing a problem. Guns allows for violence, that is true, but there are also other ways of assaulting people. Perhaps it would be harder to kill politicians if there were no guns as personal body guards would probably stop any person trying to lay hands on a politician, but the problem here is that the average person does not have body guards. If a violent rhetoric still exists in society there will still possibly be a problem with violence, because a violent rhetoric in the way that primarily right-wing politicians in the US are using makes it acceptable, in fact, it is an indirect encouragement of violence. If violence becomes normative in discussions about politics, or about any action in society, people start seeing it as something acceptable, and once that happens, what is to say that there will not be people exercising violence against average citizens demonstrating for a cause that the perpetrator(s) do(es) not agree with? This happens in societies where guns are not nearly as readily accessible.
When violence and politics are seen as something that go together, it becomes a problem. A democratic society is no longer democratic where people are silenced through violence, by any means. Violent rhetoric can contribute to a mainstreaming of violence within politics, and it does not matter if it is guns that are being used in visuals, like Sarah Palin and her famous crosshairs, because it is the violence in the rhetoric that is dangerous. If that type of rhetoric is used and people do not have access to guns, they will find other ways to use violence; other means of violent protest. Banning guns is a fantastic idea, but the rhetoric is also very important to watch lest it leads to violence becoming the norm in political debate and discussion, or that violence starts to be associated with politics.
I have said it before: violent rhetoric does not belong in a democratic society, it is counterproductive and may lead to an undermining of democratic principles. Implications and consequences of using a certain type of rhetoric needs to be watched out for. If rhetoric were not important, then politicians would not need nearly the enormous amount of staff and resources that go into politial PR, spin, speech writing etc. Words do matter. So does legislation, but banning things will only work insofar the public is on board with the idea. If the rhetoric persists while guns are banned, violence might still be used in politics. Banning guns is a good start, but there needs to be work done on the rhetoric too.