Arizona shooting raises question over gun laws
Most of the victims were hit randomly. But they could barely have been more poignant. In the post-massacre debate, many fingers have pointed at Sarah Palin and the cross-hair emblems on her electoral map of congressional candidates to be targeted with ballots, not bullets. There has been much talk about the gun-toting lingo of "lock and load" in the political discourse. The left has pointed an albeit indirect finger of blame at the fear and loathing whipped up on Fox TV and talk radio. The right has accused the left of confusing a loony loner with mainstream conservative politics.
Much of the language is indeed unpleasant and jars with what is usually a very polite country. And, yes, it would probably be better if the cross hairs, which have been temporarily removed from Palin's website, were subject to the permanent delete button.
But surely - and forgive me for being blindingly obvious here - the elephant in the room is the astonishing ease with which a 22-year-old man whose behaviour had caused alarm in his community college, had question marks over his mental stability and who lingered in the darker recesses of the web, was allowed to walk into a shop and buy a gun. And not just any old gun. But a Glock semi-automatic, a weapon designed arguably only for hunting humans.
On some issues, like alcohol consumption and drugs, America is - on the whole - strictly suspicious of the individual's ability to be behave sensibly. But when it comes to lethal weapons, this country is astonishingly permissive and trusting. We are told over and over again that it's the person that kills, not the gun. In the case of Jared Lee Loughner and his semi-automatic Glock, that is clearly nonsense.
In Arizona, the political debate has been particularly heated. But this is also a state where students and teachers are allowed to carry concealed weapons to class. Ironically, this is a freedom which Representative Gabrielle Giffords favoured. The inflamed passions of American politics are unpleasant. But the ability of some deeply troubled individuals to purchase lethal weapons must surely cause alarm. However this aspect of the tragedy has been little debated since the weekend, which to many outside America is frankly baffling.