Saturday, April 11, 2009

Personal responsibility

Pittsburgh is not the first place most people would guess that a tragedy like last week’s shooting, which left three police officers dead, would occur, let alone the relatively quiet neighborhood of Stanton Heights.

While most of us were shocked by what happened, what will happen from here is all too predictable. The accused gunman, Richard Poplawski, will have his day in court, during which he will have a free public soapbox for his ridiculous conspiracy theories. He will then have 10 or 15 years to write his book, and then, as a prosecutor on "Law and Order" once put it, there’s that pesky needle.

Much has been said in the media about Poplawski’s easy access to a variety of guns and extremist media. It’s enough to make you think that the Bill of Rights—or at least its first two amendments—might have been a bad idea.

But the problem isn’t too many rights—it’s not enough responsibility.

There is the Second Amendment guaranteeing the American public’s right to keep and bear arms (although nobody seems to quote the part about the “well regulated militia”). I have no problem, in general, with someone wanting to own a gun, but I don’t understand the fascination with guns—and I find the whole fanatical “from my cold, dead hands” gun culture creepy.

Poplawski, with a less-than-honorable discharge from the Marines and a restraining order from a former girlfriend, was able to buy four weapons, including an AK-47, from a local gun store. And nobody saw anything wrong with this picture?

If I walked into a bar visibly drunk, the bar could not legally serve me another drink. If I claimed that I had a Constitutional right to one more beer, nobody would take me seriously. Yet nobody questions why someone with danger all over his past would want an AK-47.

Then there is the First Amendment—the right to free speech. I’m a former journalist, so you won’t find anybody more opposed to censorship than I.

But it’s hard to ignore that two major influences on Poplawski are right-wing crank Alex Jones, who alleges that FEMA (an agency barely capable of handing people bottles of water) is building concentration camps, and Fox News’ Glenn Beck, who disseminates nightly lies about President Obama. Not to mention Poplawski’s frequent visits to hate sites such as Stormfront.

But we know what will happen. The Becks and Hannitys and Limbaughs will all throw Poplawski under the bus. “Don’t blame us. That’s not what we meant. Don’t censor us over the actions of a lone nut.” Nobody is talking about censorship—but shouldn’t media outlets accept some responsibility for the messages they send?

“Personal responsibility” has long been the mantra of right wingers, especially when they want to berate some alleged “welfare queen.”

It’s time for the right wing to accept some personal responsibility of its own.

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