The Arizona Daily Star photographed Jared Loughner in March 2010 when he was a volunteer at the Tuscon Festival of Books.

By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

What a tragedy in Arizona. Not just for the families of those shot and injured in what appears to be an armed attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Not just for Arizona. But for the entire country.

And it should be a wake-up call for us in Florida.

From early reports, this horror was the result of a confluence of circumstances:

A state with lax gun control laws. Like Florida.

A mentally unstable person. Of which we have one or two.

And a vitriolic political climate. Remember Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign promise to bring an Arizona-style immigration law to Florida?

Words, we are constantly reminded, have meanings. Meanings that are sometimes taken to the extreme, particularly by people who aren’t all there mentally.

All those signs and slogans about government being bad, even evil. Images of people at political rallies armed to the teeth.

Most of us understand them as symbols of frustration. A message of outrage. But as I’ve said before, the problem with messages is that not everybody gets the same one.

In a state that has been hammered with those kind of messages, how can we then be surprised when an unbalanced person takes a gun, goes to a political rally and shoots the symbol of that government?

Our surprise should be that someone like Jared Lee Loughner — kicked out of community college for inappropriate behavior, rejected by the U.S. Army — was able to buy a 9-millimeter  semiautomatic pistol that was capable, in moments, of killing 6 and wounding 14.

And he would have been able to buy it in Florida, which does not require a state license or permit to own a gun. All you need in Florida is a background check. And since Loughner had not been “adjudicated mentally defective or committed to a mental institution,” he would have had the gun in his hand within three days. In fact, if he had $85, Loughner could have easily gotten a concealed weapons permit and walked around with it under his hoodie.

These are dangerous times because we’re so divided by politics, and united in our frustrations. Our country is hurting.

It’s time to re-think everything we’ve been doing. Both laws and attitudes. Time to speak not just purposefully and passionately — but thoughtfully.

Time to unite and heal.

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