Weird news that Jared Loughner opened fire at a Tucson public appearance by U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and shot her and killed several others is a reminder that unhinged people sometimes go postal. He has more in common with the Columbine and Virginia Tech shooters than political assassins who have specific targets. Those of us who have served the public have always joked about the lunatic fringe, full Moon periods and foil hats.
Is it the result of social discourse gone awry? I think it wrong to read too much into it. It is true that the 24-hour news cycle purges moderate voices into more extreme voices on both the left and right. The left blames the right for influencing the shooter; the right blames the left for blaming the right. It is all too predictable.
When Gabrielle Giffords was sworn into office after she won another term, she read the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Sometimes we focus too much on the establishment clause or the right of free exercise of religion. Less understood is the right of people to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances shall not be abridged. Calls for enhanced security of U.S. Representatives and Senators might mean that no one can publicly disagree with someone elected to serve us. I can remember when anyone could enter the U.S. Capitol. Already it resembles an armed camp in the Third World.
Many know how long I have served the public. I have met with disturbed, homeless and those with poor hygiene who arrived without an appointment in Michigan and Wisconsin. I feared for my personal safety in public service only once. It was in Michigan. It was not Detroit, Flint or Benton Harbor; I always felt a sense of safety in those although many do not. I lifted weights about three times per week so I was a fit 200 pounds from 1992 to 1996. We are not talking about moments when my heart raced driving towards the sun going toward Lake Huron, going home from a long day in Pontiac or spinning out of control on new snow in Delta Township streets.
No, my threat of physical harm came in Midland in 1995 when I was a Michigan Tax Tribunal Hearing Referee adjudicating property tax assessment appeals. Petitioner was deranged and a friend of Oklahoma bombing facilitator and Thumb farmer Terry Nichols. I was asking questions about his case and somehow he got behind me. He told me how easy it would be to kill me by snapping my neck. I do not remember how I ruled in his case but it is unlikely that unless there was a mistake of fact that he prevailed.
I needed to get some information from the Midland County Equalization Director on a different case and mentioned this petitioner. I was informed that he had threatened to bring automatic weapons to kill people in county government.
Right of people to peaceably assemble shall not be abridged. The key words are Peaceably Assemble.