Tom Zoellner, Chapman University Professor, On the Gabrielle Giffords Shooting

"I'm gonna hurl myself against the wall.  I'd rather feel bad that not feel anything at all." - Warren Zevon (January 24, 1947 - September 7, 2003)      

It's Week Two of your new favorite extreme-niche blog about books and Orange County and my own favorite topic (me), so here's the Bibliofella back to ruin a perfectly good Sunday morning, interrupting the puzzle master on NPR and mourning Warren Zevon, who would've had a birthday last week, being wise and old instead of wise and dead. Zevon's amusing anthems of angry despair and existential hilarity continue helping the Bibliofella navigate life's difficult waters, often in the manner of the Costa Concordia.  Fun fact: That doomed cruise liner was the set of Jean-Luc Goddard's recent film Socialisme, an unsubtle but, we read, brilliant cinematic meditation on capitalism. Perfect.  

I say ruined because you probably didn't want to discuss handguns this morning. Tough.  I'd rather we all feel bad.  But let's at least take a fun quiz first, a la Will Shortz.  Ready?  What famous American asked:  "What is government if words have no meaning?"
Tom Zoellner, Chapman University Professor, On the Gabrielle Giffords Shooting
 Multiple choice:  a) Warren Zevon b) Situationist philosopher Guy Debord c) Newt Gingrich d) Stephane Hessel e) Jared Lee Loughner.
Okay, only three are even Americans.  And if you chose everything but "e" you're forgiven.  But as journalist Tom Zoellner, lately teaching at Chapman University points on in his newest book, A Safeway in Arizona: What the Gabrielle Giffords Shooting Tells us about the Grand Canyon State and Life in America, the mentally ill Arizona assassin himself offered this actual interrogative at, yes, a public forum years before he arrived at the now-iconic supermarket parking lot to shoot Giffords in the brain with his Glock 19. 

I suspect Zoellner, a native Arizonan and veteran political reporter, had a big crush on Giffords, a moderate Democrat for whom he worked in two campaigns.  I know for certain he has a big crush on democracy, which he found in her indomitable and enthusiastic living of it: "a deeper version of citizenship; an attempt to take ownership of our problems and make our flawed state just a hair's breadth better." 

Flawed, indeed, with unsustainable development, racist SB 1070 and textbook banning, crumbling infrastructure, golf-mad retirees who don't want to pay taxes (or can't), weird right-wing elected officials including Governor Jan Brewer (that's her pointing last week at our Kenyan-Muslim-Socialist president) and "America's toughest sheriff," the execrable Joe Arpaio, all of it sung to the bellowing of the Tea Party and narrated by AM shock jocks, with commercials by the National Rifle Association. 

Hard to be an indomitable elected official as against a handgun which shoots fifteen rounds.  She resigned last week.  A victory for the sword over the pen.  Except that Zoellner, author of previous books on the social histories of, respectively, diamonds and uranium, doesn't want this one to be about guns.  He's more ambitious, and more reasonable than Mr. Bib.  He'd like you and me to find meaning in words, in facts and reason, and to empower self-government, despite the challenge of building a social democracy absent economic democracy.  Hard to do that when the Tea Party cowboys, who oppose both (!), show up a-totin' their sidearms as intimidating props at, of all things, town halls on health care reform, and then (oops) drop them!  So much for NRA gun safety training, not to mention schizophrenics and everybody else buying at gun shows or carrying, legally, hidden on their patriotic persons. 

Oh, and to be clear:  The Arizona legislature concluded its first session after the murder of six citizens and wounding of thirteen by naming the Colt Single-Action Army Revolver its official state shooter and cutting $500 million from health care, including mental health services. 

 Don't get me started on the NRA.  Okay, do.  Zoellner's excellent and comprehensive memoir meets history meets meditation meets public policy investigation doesn't hold the weapons manufacturing lobby nearly as accountable as does the Bibliofella.  Tom Z. is a winning guy, a terrific writer, who feels badly about writing a book about his friend at all.  Feeling bad seems to be a theme this morning.  Go figure.
I don't mind offering my own example of how to respond, angrily and uselessly, to a completely predictable mass shooting.  When one happens, as it did at a Seal Beach hair salon and an Irwindale So Cal Edison facility, as it will again soon enough, I like to call the NRA at its toll-free number (800) 672-3888 and thank whoever picks up for that outfit's terrific work getting weapons into the hands of as many people as possible before they hang up on me.  (See Zevon, above, re pain.)  Alas, it doesn't feel so much better, as the old joke goes, when I stop.
We live in a different world than gun nuts.  It's not a democracy.  When I knocked on the door of Prof. Zoellner's office at the cute little Chapman campus in idyllic Orange recently, I wasn't thinking e might mistake me for an intruder or a government agent there to seize his weapons.  But the gun lobby wants me to.  We are meant to be scared of each other, all the time, when we are not shopping together and packing heat and protesting Muslims while packing heat and trying to prevent Mexican kids from going to college while packing heat, like anti-Dream Act Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, with a gun in his luggage.  I told you not to get me started!  Sorry, but their freedom to own an arsenal kind of discourages the rest of us by way of participation.  Guns don't kill people, they kill civic participation, pilgrim.  And people.
 Just last week I was lucky enough to tape an episode of my terrific book-talk radio show, with my favorite living topical singer-songwriter.  If you love Zevon and Tom Lehrer and Shel Silverstein, you'll check out Roy Zimmerman, whose website promises "Funny songs about ignorance, war and greed."  I'll give him the last word on this week's dismally hysterical subject, and direct you to purchase a copy of A Safeway and a CD.  In studio with his lovely wife and collaborator, Zimmerman told his joke about the former Vice President of our gun-crazy republic, an NRA member who accidentally shot his wealthy patron friend in the face:  "Cheney was exercising his Second Amendment right to free speech." Ouch.
Next week:  Meet Madame Helena Modjeska, my internationally-renowned Polish-American Shakespearean actress next-door neighbor.

A Safeway in Arizona: What the Gabrielle Giffords Shooting Tells Us About the Grand Canyon State and Life in America, Tom Zoellner, Viking: 276 pp., $26.95.


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