Current Commentary: Nut Jobs with Guns By Larry M. Elkin, CPA, CFP®

eHezi Archives 19 Comments

Palisades Hudson Financial Group LLC_logo A nut job with a gun shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 other people on Saturday, killing six and leaving Giffords, a moderate Democrat who represents a Republican-leaning Arizona district, clinging to life after brain surgery.

Unless eyewitnesses overpowered the wrong guy when he paused to reload his weapon, we know exactly what happened to Giffords and those other innocent victims. A 22-year-old misfit named Jared Loughner, known by his acquaintances to have tendencies toward raving statements and aggressive behavior, used a rapid-firing handgun to squeeze out two dozen shots or more before anyone in the crowd surrounding him had a chance to react.

The Tea Party movement did not shoot those people, or cause the shooting. Neither did Fox News, nor Sarah Palin, nor the loudmouthed talking heads on AM radio. It is emotionally comforting, but self-deceptive, to blame the weekend mayhem in Arizona on the overheated, angry rhetoric of modern American politics. The alternative, too terrifying for many of us to accept, is that this is just another random example of a not-uniquely-American phenomenon: As long as there are crazy people and there are weapons, the former will sometimes use the latter to commit senseless acts of violence.

Blaming politics for Saturday’s shootings is like blaming television and computer-game violence for the many awful school shootings we have seen, including Columbine High School and Virginia Tech. It is like blaming rock and roll music for Mark David Chapman’s decision tomurder John Lennon. It is like blaming Hollywood for John Hinckley’sattempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan (in a delusional attempt to win the affection of actress Jodie Foster), or television for the 1989 murder of young sitcom star Rebecca Schaefer by Robert John Bardo, an obsessed stalker. Emotionally closer to the politics-tinged Arizona case, American policy was not to blame for the attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the Unabomber’s multi-year string of destruction, or the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

The nut job with a gun is an old story, predating all of these factors. President James Garfield was assassinated by Charles Guiteau, an unsuccessful loner who felt he was personally responsible for Garfield’s election. That was in 1881.

The circumstances of each situation varied. Any one of these assaults might have been averted if something in the would-be killer’s environment had been different. If things had been different, though, other unfortunate random events could just as easily have occurred. The influence of a mentally unstable person’s surroundings on their actions is difficult to predict and impossible to control, short of institutionalizing the individual.

We can’t make seriously disturbed people less disturbed by the way we behave. But even so, there are two useful things we can do in response to a tragedy like that in Arizona. First, we can try to contain the damage that occurs when an unstable person erupts into violence. And second, we can tone down and civilize our discourse; not because it will prevent violent people from acting violently, but because we will have a much better society if people who are not seriously disturbed stop giving those around them reasons to fear that they are, or that others around them will be triggered by gratuitously angry or hateful speech.

Certainly, a little bit of celebrity (and a junior congresswoman from the minority party has only a little bit of celebrity) can make someone the target of an unstable person’s obsessions, and can heighten risk to personal safety. When we combine that fact with the easy availability of high-powered, rapid-firing weapons, the danger is magnified: for the recognizable individual, for bystanders and other third parties, or for crowds at places such as schools. Although this kind of random violence is not unique to our country, our relative openness toward weapons makes it more likely to happen here than elsewhere, and often more deadly when it does.

We are never going to have the kind of strict controls on guns in this country that some of us would like to see. The Supreme Court has spoken, and all that really remains to hash out is the degree of restriction government can place on the ability of civilians to obtain repeat-firing, large-magazine, powerful weapons that are designed to shoot a lot of people in a hurry. In this weekend’s case, as in many others, there probably would have been no legal way to stop a citizen with an apparently clean criminal record from buying a gun, even after he displayed ample signs of instability and alienation. Ironically, Giffords likely would have opposed any significant moves to restrict her assailant’s ability to get hold of a weapon. (If she recovers, it will be interesting to see if she has the sort of epiphany that James Brady, who was Reagan’s press secretary, experienced after he survived a bullet to the brain.)

We absolutely should tone down our discussions, on politics and other topics, to show respect for other points of view. People who disagree with us on controversial issues are generally not trying to hurt anyone. They are not our enemies. We ought to have the humility to grant that they may even be right, and that if they are not, they still are entitled to opinions that differ from ours.

Just writing this daily commentary brings out a lot of gratuitous nastiness, nearly all of which is screened from this page because my colleague Amy Laburda takes on the burden of being the gatekeeper. So you did not read the rant from a man in South Africa who promised to withhold his business from my financial planning firm because I used the plural “piranhas” rather than “piranha” (both, incidentally, are acceptable plural forms in English) in a post last week. And you did not see the comments of the man who described the homeless as “parasites” and wrote of health care: “If you haven’t done a damn thing for anyone, you don’t deserve anything.”

We owe it to one another to be polite, if not kind, not because it is a way to make disturbed people behave normally – it generally won’t – but because there is no reason for normal people to behave toward one another as though we are disturbed. We all can do without the added stress.

We also can try, though better security, more vigilant mental health screening, and perhaps other acceptable changes in the gun laws, to cut down the number and severity of tragedies like Saturday’s. It is certainly a worthwhile effort to make. But as long as we have guns and nut jobs, the nut-job-with-a-gun story is not going to go away.

Larry M. Elkin, CPA, CFP®, president of Palisades Hudson Financial Group a fee-only financial planning firm heiadquartered in Scarsdale, NY. It offers estate planning, insurance consulting, trust planning, cross-border planning,        business valuation, family office and business management, executive financial planning, and tax services. Its sister firm, Palisades Hudson Asset Management, is an independent        investment advisor with about $950 million under management. Branch offices are in Atlanta and Ft. Lauderdale. Website:

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eHeziCurrent Commentary: Nut Jobs with Guns By Larry M. Elkin, CPA, CFP®

Comments 19

  1. one other comment…if you and your friends are going
    to make the determination as to who the “real” republcians are…eg all who disagree with everything
    you advocate are “liberals” you are going to wind
    up with a party of old, white, southern, uneducated
    people who can’t win shit

  2. The middle determines elections…its why the senate
    is not republican because the purists on the right
    decided that sharon angel, and the witch in maryland
    along with a few others had all the answers…barry
    goldwater would be spinning in his grave

  3. Whatever you are, it ain’t republican. Whenever some clown starts in about the middle and talk radio, it’s because he’s a liberal. You are not in the middle, dude. Liberals are that great, elitist 10 percent who keep thinking they can snow people into believing a defunct and dispoven political philosphy espoused by a minority is somehow really the view of the majority. Dream on.

  4. please stop deciding who is and who is not a republican….you just can’t get over the fact that
    your definition of ideological purity is not what
    the republican party is all about…its about what
    rush limbaugh and sean hannity preach on a daily basis
    and people like you who are unable to make their
    own conclusions based on facts simply buy into the
    garbage that these guys are hawking on a daily basis..
    remember who is going to determine the outcome of
    every election ..its not the leftists or the rightests
    its the people in the middle that can think…clearly
    not you

  5. Looney leftists will be calling for Target Department Stores to change their name and logo.The only good Democrat is a defeated Democrat.

  6. John McCain is like you. A RINO who pretends to represent the mainstream of his party. McCain moved to the center to get himself re-elected and some people bought that crap so he won. But we all know what you and the local republicans are like. Half the democrats are to the right of people like you. You point to a liberal like McCain who kisses the rear of a President who was quoted as saying “if they bring a knife, we’ll bring a gun.”
    And a pot smoking leftist DID bring a gun to Tucson. People like you caused this- now you own it.
    I got your “tone” right here.

  7. you really need to stop villifying all those with whom
    you appear to have a continue to
    characterize people as leftists etc which is exactly
    what john mccain today repudiated..he callled obama
    a patriot…can’t you make an intellectual argument
    without namecalling…mr fuller was truamatized by
    the shooting of the congresswoman and others including himself and yet you have absolutely no compunction to
    villify him as well to justify your political position
    you have now been dissed by john mccain specifically
    for the tone and the content of your remarks

  8. And another fine, upstanding member of the left strikes:
    “One of the Arizona shooting victims was arrested Saturday and then taken for a psychiatric evaluation after authorities said he took a picture of a tea party leader at televised town hall meeting and yelled: “you’re dead.”
    James Eric Fuller, 63, objected to something Trent Humphries said during the forum taped for a special edition of ABC’s “This Week” with Christiane Amanpour, Pima County sheriff’s spokesman Jason Ogan said. Fuller was in the front row and apparently became upset when Humphries suggested that any conversations about gun control should be delayed until all the dead were buried, KGUN-TV in Tucson reported.
    Fuller was arrested on misdemeanor disorderly conduct and threat charges, Ogan said. While Fuller was being escorted out, deputies decided he needed a mental health evaluation and he was taken to a hospital, where he remained Saturday evening.
    The hospital will determine when he will be released, Ogan said.”
    No worries- he didn’t REALLY mean dead- he only meant it the same way all those protesters chanting “Kill Bush” meant it.

  9. “May have had” is a hell of lot better for the country than a Marxist elected to the presidency by Communists.Like the Soviets, Obamaists believe telling a lie long enough will make it believable, that the Tucson killing was due to political attacks on the leftist Obama administration policies by the Tea Party and consrvative media.Oh, by the way speaking of alzeimhers, former House speaker Pelosi in a speech just referred to the Tucson massacre as an “accident”.And the leftist media would have went insane if a Republican or Conservative called the killings an accident.Someone better check out the old gal Pelosi for alzeimers.The only good Democrat is a defeated Democrat.

  10. the rumor is not being spread by anyone but ron the article…he says he recognized
    a deficit in his dad while he was still in the white
    house…and it is a fact that alzheimer’s starts
    to develop way before a diagnosis is for
    nobody watches newsmakers..that’s funny just got
    back from stu leonards..five people stopped me and
    loved the show…i guess that the other 400,000 were
    absent from stu’s lamb department…by the way
    want a great recipe for slow cooked leg of lamb?

  11. And by the way, right after the great leader of the whining left himself lead a political rally- disguised as a memorial service and complete with t-shits, of all things- you clowns started in again without missing a beat. This time you scum are spreading another rumor that President Reagan had Alzheimer’s disease while he was in office. You people are literally beneath contempt. Take your calls to tone it down and blow it out your collective rears.

  12. The aptly named DORK should wear a condom over his head when he has the urge to post.
    Otherwise his opinion will persist in leaking out all over this blog.

  13. Both sides don’t have to do anything. YOUR side has to tone it down- but you never will, because to the angry irrational left, the end always justifies the means.
    Your side takes Weathermen terrorists, lionizes them and turns them into college professors. You riot, overturn cars, stab people to death, beat them with bricks and burn stores and buildings whenever you think you perceive some injury or injustice. You are responsible for most of the violent street crime in this country. You own almost all of the illegal guns, which you use to rob, rape and pillage. You throw rocks, ice and pies at conservative speakers and try to shout them down or ban them when they try to appear at colleges and forums. You carried signs for 8 years calling outright for the assassination of President Bush and made half-witted movies and wrote semi-literate tomes along the same lines. You vandalize campaign offices and slash tires of republican candidates. You paint your own bodies, cars and hang nooses up and then claim we did it. You work as strippers and hookers and falsely accuse our college sports teams of rape. You claim President Bush and the Jews faked 9/11. You claim Bush was never actually elected and he lied to get us into a war. You write articles about how much you hate President Bush. Lots of articles. You hate and despise this great country, agree with the Islamists and attempt to cover up and obfuscate the obvious motivation for each and every attack, including the underwear bomber, the Times Square bomber and Major Hasan. In sum, you are a bunch of hypocritical violent dirt-bags who have attempted to blame conservatives and republicans for every spree shooting and bombing when almost all have been committed by lunatics and leftists- admittedly a distinction without a difference. Do the rest of the country a favor and just secede already. You can set up a nice totalitarian regime where you and the rest you ilk will be nice and comfy. Until then, just shut up.

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