The deranged man had been steadily going downhill. His bizarre anti-social behavior and angry outbursts had caused him to be suspended from college classes. He spiraled downward into a vortex of madness and nursed a weird political grievance until finally he went on a murderous rampage with a 9-mm semi-automatic pistol, killing six people and wounding more than a dozen others.
But nobody blamed Sarah Palin or the Tea Party for this bloody crime, because it was December 1993, and the deranged gunman was Colin Ferguson. And his killing spree didn’t happen in Arizona, but on New York’s Long Island Railroad, where he opened fire in a train full of rush-hour commuters.
The remarkable parallels between Ferguson’s mass murder and Saturday’s shootings in Tucson include not only the choice of weapons and the number of victims killed, but also the fact that in both cases, liberals downplayed the idiosyncratic motives of the gunmen and immediately seized upon both crimes to advance their political agenda.
Liberals predictably used Ferguson’s murders to promote gun-control legislation. Just days before the Long Island Railroad massacre, President Clinton had signed into law the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, requiring background checks on firearm purchasers. Of course, Ferguson had already bought his 9-mm Ruger pistol during a visit to California, where state law required a 15-day waiting period. And despite his increasingly paranoid behavior, there was evidently nothing in Ferguson’s record that would have prevented him from buying a gun. Several months later, Congress passed and Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which prohibited the manufacture or import of certain semi-automatic weapons — wrongly described as “assault weapons” — as “high capacity” ammunition magazines. It has often been wrongly asserted that the so-called “assault weapons ban” outlawed these weapons and magazines, but it did not. Existing weapons and magazines of the prohibited type, already owned by many thousands of Americans, remained perfectly legal; it simply became illegal to manufacture such items in the U.S. or import them from overseas. Collectors who stocked up on the banned weapons and magazines before the Clinton-era law went into effect were able to reap handsome profits in the re-sale market during the 10 years before the law expired in 2004.
In the aftermath of the Tucson shooting — where accused killer Jared Lee Loughner used a 30-round magazine in his 9-mm Glock pistol — liberal pundits and reporters recycled the mistaken claim that the 1994 law had “banned” high-capacity magazines. (Blogger Bob Owens has endeavored to correct this misinformation, but has not been overwhelmed by phone calls from network TV producers who evidently prefer to rely on “experts” who get the facts all wrong.) Democrat Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was killed in Ferguson’s rampage, has been making the media rounds urging a new federal law to limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds. But it’s more likely the new GOP majority in the House will re-introduce the Volstead Act rather than to anger the millions of Second Amendment-loving Americans who delivered the overwhelming Republican mandate in November.
Even most Democrats, having recognized the political liability of advocating gun-control laws, are unlikely to support new restrictions. Perhaps this is merely a matter of electoral expediency, or perhaps Democrats have come to share the American majority’s opinion that guns don’t kill people, oppressed “victims of society” kill people.
Colin Ferguson certainly believed himself to be an oppressed victim. Having immigrated to New York from Jamaica in 1982 at age 24, Ferguson was unable to find a job that suited his taste and spent much of the next decade unemployed. He filed a workman’s compensation claim against one company that hired him, enrolled in community college and began to exhibit an increasingly virulent hatred of white people. During one college lecture he reportedly shouted, “Kill the white people!” Unlike Al Sharpton, however, Ferguson’s vicious race-mongering didn’t lead to a Democratic presidential campaign and frequent appearances as a “civil rights” commentator on cable news networks. Instead, it led him to isolation and madness. (Neighbors complained they could hear Ferguson in his room at night yelling about killing white people, but no one seems to have thought to call the police; perhaps they thought Ferguson was practicing for a career as a rapper.) After Ferguson killed six people — five whites and an Asian — and wounded 19, he was at first represented by radical lawyers William Kunstler and Ron Koby. They wanted to defend their client on the basis of the innovative “black rage” theory that America’s endemic racism was more to blame than the guy who pulled the trigger. Ferguson had the judge remove Kunstler and Koby from the case, instead acting as his own attorney — cross-examining the surviving people he’d shot — and in the end was found guilty and sentenced to more than 300 years in prison.
Jared Lee Loughner, age 22, is not a Jamaican immigrant and so the “black rage” defense clearly won’t work for him, although his dangerous derangement developed in a similar fashion. As with Ferguson, Loughner had been exhibiting symptoms of insanity for years before he finally committed mass murder. He had a history of teenage drug and alcohol abuse, and a high-school classmate recalled him as a “political radical” of the “left wing” variety. Loughner became obsessed with “mind control” and weird theories of language. In community college classes, his bizarre behavior and nonsensical interruptions so frightened his teachers and classmates that he was banned from campus.
Once upon a time, someone so manifestly insane would have been locked up in the loony bin, but in the 1970s, liberals crusaded for the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill. A series of federal court rulings made it impermissible to commit patients to involuntary treatment unless it could be proven they were a threat to the safety of themselves or others, a legal standard that may have been difficult to meet in Loughner’s case. And no one seems to have realized that Loughner’s craziness and his avowed contempt for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — whom he’d met at a 2007 public forum — might prove a deadly combination before he finally opened fire Saturday in the parking lot of a Tucson grocery store.
Liberals didn’t wait to learn about Loughner’s madness or his grudge against Giffords before attempting to politicize the gunman’s crime. In fact, the suspect hadn’t even been named before liberal bloggers Matthew Yglesias and Markos Moulitsas declared that Sarah Palin was to blame for the Arizona shootings. Even after news accounts exposed the reality of “left wing” Loughner’s insanity — he wasn’t a Tea Partier or a Republican and didn’t even bother to vote in 2010 — still liberals insisted that somehow, the rhetoric of conservatives had created what New York Times columnist Paul Krugman called a “climate of hate.” Of course, this alleged climate was no more to blame for Loughner’s crime than the Kunstler-Kuby “black rage” theory, but liberals weren’t going to let facts stand in their way. Conservatives who refused to play along with this blame game were accused of being “defensive,” as if it were some evidence of a guilty conscience to deny what Glenn Reynolds rightly called “blood libel.”
The liberal response to the Tucson massacre was as irrational as Loughner’s own crackpot ideas of “mind control.” You could watch the madness unfold hour by hour on MSNBC, the official network of liberalism. Monday afternoon, the network’s perpetually angry Ed Schultz spent the first segment of his show denouncing various conservatives for their irresponsible, violence-inducing rhetoric, before introducing his guest that noted arbiter of civil discourse, Al Sharpton. Schultz’s ratings are so low they can barely be measured by the Nielsen system, but when it comes to unintentional irony, the meter was off the chart Monday.
Liberals who have crusaded to keep madmen running loose in America have also campaigned to abolish the death penalty, so that innocent victims can be killed, but their killers can’t. Liberals have also advanced an absolutist theory of First Amendment rights that protects pornographers, Marxist revolutionaries, and Islamic clerics who advocate jihad. The only speech that liberals ever want to restrict is the speech of those who point out the errors of liberalism. Any conservative would be denounced for “hate speech” if he borrowed the words of President Obama’s former pastor and declared that what happened in Tucson on Saturday was liberalism’s “chickens coming home to roost.” But liberals can’t gain any political advantage by blaming Jared Loughner and they never accept any responsibility themselves, so liberalism’s eternal hunt for scapegoats will continue.