(Gabby Giffords withdrew from politics today, to concentrate on her recovery. By coincidence my collaborators Damian Spruce and Stephen Ramsey and I completed only last Thursday a draft of the Giffords chapter in our book about 2011, The Year It All Fell Down, to be published before Christmas by Penguin. Here is the chapter, as it currently stands.)
Loughner had a 9mm Glock 19 semiautomatic and ninety bullets and in a hooded sweatshirt calmly stood in line while Gabby Giffords, a Congresswoman trying that week to become pregnant, politely heard constituents’ complaints. At 10.10 he shot her in the head and at random thirty others and while trying to reload was subdued.
The dead were Gabe Zimmerman, Gabby’s thirty-year-old outreach director, who was engaged to be married; John Roll, a sixty-year-old Federal Court Judge, a Bush-appointed Republican dropping by to wish her well; Dorothy Morris, a seventy-nine-year-old grandmother of seven lately widowed after fifty-six years of marriage; Dorwan Stoddard, a seventy-six-year-old retired road grader who travelled with his wife Mave in a mobile home after getting on top of his already thrice-wounded wife to protect her; and Christina-Taylor Green, a nine-year-old girl born on 9/11 who played in an all-boys baseball team. Thirteen others were wounded in the wrist, face, leg, chest and head. It was a woman, Patricia Maisch, who grabbed Loughner’s second clip, and two men, Bill Badger and Roger Salzgeber, who held him down.
In the chaos, a paramedic, Colt Jackson, asked Gabby if she could hear him and she squeezed his hand. One of her interns, Daniel Hernandez, tried to hold her head together and watched her left hand pull down her skirt which had become hiked up in her fall, and thus maintain her modesty in even the shadow of death.
Brought by ambulance to Universal Medical Centre, she lost power in her left side but could still on command squeeze Dr Randall Friese’s hand. A breathing-tube went into her throat and she had fractures in both eye sockets and a swelling brain in which bits of bullet and bone were left lodged and possibly infectious lest the getting of them out cause worse danger than leaving them in.
Her mother Gloria, a Christian Scientist, arrived and prayed. Her husband Mark, an astronaut, was on plane flying south to join her. He had been in his youth an emergency medical technician dealing with gunshot wounds and feared the worst. He arrived in her room at 2.45 and noticed blood under her fingernails, a head twice its normal size and a face black-and-blue. He talked to her encouragingly, saying ‘You’re going to make it through this’, and squeezed her hand, and noticed a tear fall from her eye.
She was put into an induced coma, with, doctors said, a one in twenty chance of survival. She herself owned a Glock 9mm semiautomatic too, and amusedly said she would protect herself with it after gunfire blew out her campaign office plate glass window in June when she defiantly said she was voting for Obamacare.
Politics went into overdrive, Arizona’s new laws allowing the arrest of anyone who looked Mexican, and an older law allowing anyone to buy and carry a handgun so long as it was concealed, were thought to have helped stir Loughner to his massacre. Loughner had had a fight with his father that morning, and was arrested for running a red light at 7.30 am, but let go.
The anti-gun lobby availed themselves of it, and the NRA conceded nothing. Chuck Schumer called in the Senate for a law prohibiting anyone rejected for military service because of drug use from owning a gun. Homeland Security’s Committee Chairman Peter T. King brought forward a bill to prohibit firearms within one thousand feet of important officials.
The shooting was seen by many as the logical outcome to the Tea Party’s violent, negative imagery. ‘Don’t retreat, reload’ was a slogan Palin’s people put under a map of Gifford’s congressional district with cross-hairs on a website Loughner may have seen. Palin quickly removed the map from her website after it was said by some that if Giffords died she would be ‘the Tea Party’s first murder victim’.
Palin’s supporters, many appearing on Fox News, insisted the massacre was ‘not political’ and the familiar ‘lone madman’ analysis of Loughner diverted blame away from Palin for a while till she herself, in a stupid defensive broadcast paid commercial, took the Reagan line that if a criminal act is committed it is the criminal’s fault, not society’s, and then went on to say, ‘If you don’t like a person’s vision for the country, you’re free to debate that view. If you don’t like their ideas, you’re free to propose better ideas. But, especially within hours of a tragedy, journalists and pundits should not a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.’
She went on to say that debate was always heated in America but when she said ‘we should take up arms’, she was not referring to weapons but the vote. But many saw immediately that the two words ‘blood libel’ constituted political suicide. It was a phrase used by Jews about stories in the Middle Ages that they kidnapped Christian children and cut their throats on Passover Night as a sacrifice to Jehovah and used their blood in the baking of the unleavened bread, and she had used what some had thought a Holocaust-related metaphor to refer to herself.
It was as if she, not Giffords, was the female victim of political violence, and it took a while, but soon she was seen as a ‘nut’ and excluded from polite conversation. Murdoch dropped her from Fox News, and she began to fade from history.
It would have been different, perhaps, if Giffords herself had not appeared on television ten months before the multiple murder saying of the advertisement, ‘We’re in Sarah Palin’s “targeted” list, but the thing is that the way she has it depicted, we’re in the cross hairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realise that there are consequences to that action.’
On the same day as the ‘blood libel’ speech, Barack Obama, in a memorial oration for the Tucson dead that was widely admired, revived, some said, his chances of re-election as President. ‘There is nothing I can say that will fill the sudden hole torn in your hearts. But know this: the hopes of a nation are here tonight. We mourn with you for the fallen. We join you in your grief. And we add our faith to yours that Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the other living victims of this tragedy will pull through. Scripture tells us:
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.’