As a follower of the U.S. space program, I found one of the things that jumped out from the news of the horrific shootings in Tucson was that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly, is an astronaut slated to command shuttle Endeavour's final flight. His twin brother, Scott Kelly, is aboard the International Space Station.
When I first heard about the astronaut connection to the Tucson shooting, the haunting words from a 1965 hit, Eve of Destruction, came to mind: "You may leave here for four days in space, but when you return, it's the same old place."
Orbiting 200 miles over Earth, Scott Kelly had this to say in reference to the shooting of his sister-in-law: "As I look out the window, I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful. Unfortunately, it is not." How troubling that the brutality and horrors from ground level can reach all the way up there. Kelly closed his comments from space saying, "We're better than this. We must do better." I think — I hope — he was speaking for most of us.
Louis Claudio, Safety Harbor
It isn't either/or
An incident in Tucson eight years ago bears resemblances to the recent shootings. On Oct. 28, 2002, Robert S. Flores Jr., a 41-year-old nursing student at the University of Arizona School of Nursing in Tucson who had recently been expelled, walked into the School of Nursing and shot and killed three professors and instructors. He then shot and killed himself.
In contrast to the recent shootings in Tucson, there was little indication of serious mental illness in Flores. The next day, a 22-page letter entitled "Communication from the Dead" arrived at the offices of the Arizona Daily Star, setting forth his life experiences and grievances. The Star published his letter online, but later withdrew it in response to public protest at giving him so much attention.
I obtained a copy of this letter and have used it in my psychiatric and psychoanalytic teaching as a way to understand what was going on psychically in this man's inner subjective world.
In the coverage of last week's mass shooting, I have been struck by the extent to which binary thinking has been the rule. Either he was mentally unbalanced, or he was influenced by political rhetoric. Clearly this man was psychologically disturbed. But unappreciated is the fact that such individuals (like all of us) are immersed in a social context that has some bearing upon their state.
Disturbed and fragile individuals are particularly subject to influence by their social surroundings. Identification with strong figures who advocate strong, bold positions often helps them maintain some degree of psychic cohesion.
Instead of "either this or that," we are better advised to think of varying degrees of more than one factor operating simultaneously. Recognizing the problem in all its complexity is an important first step in beginning to think about possible solutions.
Edward H. Stein, M.D., Tampa
Obama can set an example
President Barack Obama's call for greater civility in our political discourse is certainly welcome.
An appropriate starting place would be for the president to apologize for likening Republicans in Congress to "hostage takers" because they argued for a broader extension of tax relief than he agreed with.
Barry Augenbraun, St. Petersburg
Don't assume a connection
It is reprehensible that letter writers and political figures alike have blamed the "rhetoric" of everyone from Sarah Palin to Rush Limbaugh for the actions of a lunatic. This is ridiculous.
First, there are no connections between this man and any conservative anywhere. He doesn't belong to a tea party. He doesn't even vote, apparently. No one knows whether he listens to Limbaugh or Mr. Rogers. To assume a connection is absurd.
To also assume that hot political rhetoric is wholly owned by the right wing is wrong. The Democratic National Committee used "state targeting" on its website in 2008.
Free speech is exactly that. Lunatics who commit these kind of crimes are listening to voices none of us can hear.
Jay Johnson, St. Petersburg
People are resorting to violent acts in times when entertainment consists of violent movies and video games, coupled with gun laws that allow them to carry out what they see in these movies and video games.
Most of us realize that this is only entertainment, but some people cannot distinguish what is real from what is not.
Len Vivolo, Palm Harbor
Technology spreads venom
The founding of the United States was accompanied by discussions as heated as those today. The difference is the much wider audience political speech receives now as a result of technology. New outlets allow for the perpetuation of "facts" that often are false, but anything repeated often enough can be accepted as truth. And unfortunately, inflammatory rhetoric can find its way into the minds of unstable individuals.
Human nature is such that we all have different philosophies and ideologies. We need to respect this and work together to reach compromises that will lead to the greater good.
Joan Catando, Spring Hill
Tough talk nothing new
All I have heard the last several days from the mainstream media and the politicians is how the violent rhetoric in this country led to the mass shootings in Arizona.
We hear about Sarah Palin and her map targeting certain districts. What we don't hear about is the president saying he would "bring a gun to a knife fight." What you don't hear is all the talk of George Bush being hanged in effigy by the left for eight years.
Political discourse has always been there. We call them "battleground states" and we say "behind enemy lines" and "political enemies."
Bill Gerretz, St. Petersburg
In the discussion of the Arizona shootings, I heard no mention of the fact that our nation increasingly over the past 30 years has been allowing dangerously unstable people to walk the streets. The 1975 Supreme Court decision in O'Connor vs. Donaldson made it harder to involuntarily commit people. As a result, the percentage of involuntarily committed people is a third or less of what it was in 1980.
I am a supporter of the Second Amendment, but extending Second Amendment rights to diagnosed paranoid schizophrenics isn't in anybody's interest.
Thomas Rask, Seminole
Dial back the anger
Sheriff Clarence Dupnik is taking heat in Arizona for jumping to conclusions about the motives of the Tucson shootings. Maybe this was just a crackpot looking for a crowd, any crowd, to shoot into. But maybe the bigger issue is the fact that we have all been living in fear of this day.
Sharron Angle told supporters to use the "Second Amendment remedy." Sarah Palin posted her hit list of congressional districts, with crosshairs, and talked about "reloading."
Even if the investigation determines the gunman had no motive other than lunacy, maybe we should look at the atmosphere in which we live, and ask if it's possible to dial it back before we spend another weekend watching a domestic terrorist attack.
Jackie Gavrian, Brandon
Heavy toll of gun violence
It's no coincidence that the shootings occurred in Arizona, which as one sheriff correctly pointed out seems to be the epicenter of right-wing activism and a home for government haters.
Over 800,000 Americans have died due to gun violence since 1981. With talk radio and other far-right media trying to outdo each other in stoking resentment, this is probably not the end of it. People have been showing up at tea party rallies and town hall meetings with firearms for months. And those who egg them on are never held accountable.
Scott Cochran, Tampa
Question: If I put out an ad with scope sights (targets) on an elected official, particularly a U.S. congressman, would I not already be in jail? So why isn't Sarah Palin?
Didn't she shout "fire" in a theater?
Richard Murphy, Clearwater
Hatred was awakened
I think there is a level of responsibility assigned to public figures such as Sarah Palin. The problem is that they do not realize the level of formerly dormant hatred, violence and bigotry that has been awakened by the election of an African-American president.
These are the people like one who entered my private conversation in a public place and said, "Are you seriously talking about a black guy becoming president?" They woke up the morning after Election Day and discovered that the impossible had occurred. Public figures, be they politicians or talking heads, must realize that their audiences now include extremists who believe when they see crosshairs that it's time to pick up a gun.
Bruce Caplan, Redington Beach
Intent isn't the issue
Of course Sarah Palin did not intend for her map to result in violence. The problem is not intent. When you are a public figure, you are rightfully held to a higher standard. And that includes looking beyond your intent to what others might perceive your intent to be. Probably the tragedy in Tucson had nothing to do with Palin's gun imagery campaign to oust Democrats. But that doesn't make the imagery any less despicable.
How she would feel if someone posted a map of Alaska with her "surveyor's mark" centered over Wasilla?
Carolyn Klema, New Port Richey
One more time American blood is spilled, and not by an illegal alien or Muslim but by a red-blooded American like in Oklahoma City, Columbine and so forth.
All we hear is that the government needs to secure the border (meaning the border with Mexico). Sure, but let's also pay attention to unbalanced people who can buy weapons.
Roberto J. Manduley, Tampa
Accept our differences
A letter writer defended Sarah Palin and inflammatory speech and in the very next sentence called Keith Olbermann and Michael Moore anti-American.
Perhaps it would be constructive if we could all agree that we are Americans and our differences are simply policy differences instead of traitorous, anti-American ideas that will take down the republic. Only then can we begin to work together to fix the problems that beset us.
Steve Harden, Holiday