Bull’s-Eyes and Crosshairs

Much attention is now being paid to the gunsight crosshair imagery Sarah Palin used to target 20 congresspeople last year, including Gabrielle Giffords. Some of those defending Palin are pointing to this image from the Democratic Leadership Council after the 2004 election. It uses a bull’s-eye to mark “target” states in the then-next presidential election. In a nation like ours, with its history of political assassinations by gun violence, I don’t like that imagery, either. But there are some significant differences. Note, for example, that the logo for Target, the large discount department store chain, is a bull’s-eye, not a crosshair.

Tommy Christopher at Mediaite writes:

A bullseye is commonly associated with target practice, and as such, the bullseye itself is the inert, nonliving target. Crosshairs, on the other hand, represent the mechanism by which a target is acquired and killed. It is also an image that resonates in popular culture through countless repetitions, in films and television shows, of the assassin’s POV shot. That the intent was to evoke something like a bullseye (only way tougher), and not the spectre of assassination, is an obvious, yet moot, point. Once that reasonable objection was raised, the image should have been abandoned.

Those pointing to this DLC map are implying that everyone, from both sides, does this. No, they don’t.

You’d have to be crazy to take that sort of rhetoric literally”, some say. “Exactly”, I say.

Was the message of Palin’s gunsight crosshairs intended to be taken literally? No. You know that, and I know that, because you and I are sane. But not everyone is sane.

And just how “obvious” is the figurative nature of such a message in the sort of political climate where Sharron Angle, the Republican candidate Palin endorsed in the Nevada Senate race against majority leader Harry Reid, said in a radio interview, “I’m hoping that we’re not getting to Second Amendment remedies. I hope the vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problems.”

Here’s the entire text of the Second Amendment:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

How else can that be taken but that Plan A is to win the election, and Plan B is the use of firearms?

This is the political context in which Palin put a crosshairs on her political opponents:

Ms. Giffords’ district office is the same that had been vandalized — a window broken, perhaps with a pellet gun, the police said — late last March, after the national health care bill passed with support from Ms. Giffords, who was known as “Gabby” to her constituents.

After that, during her re-election campaign, protesters gathered on most Saturdays on the same corner shouting and holding signs that said things like “Gabby, You’re Gone.”

“On a typical Saturday this corner is filled with Tea Party protesters,” said Brenda Tyler, who was with her husband, Lyndon. “I’ve seen signs saying things like ‘It’s time to reload’ and ‘One way or another, you’re gone.’” A real estate agency in the neighborhood had a sign out front that said “Goodbye Gabby” and showed the silhouette of a witch on a broom,” she said. It had been taken down on Saturday.

Using gunsight crosshairs to represent a political opponent is sick, under any circumstances. But in a context where protestors hold signs reading “One way or another, you’re gone” — where the Republican Senate candidate in Nevada speaks openly of “Second Amendment remedies” — it’s dangerous. Some of us have seen this all along — including, tragically, Gabrielle Giffords herself. Many more see it now, because of yesterday’s senseless, heartbreaking violence.

Eugene Mirman, on Twitter:

It’s not @SarahPalinUSA’s fault a violent undiagnosed schizophrenic shot those people, but I’m super-glad I didn’t put up a map like that.

She’s not responsible for what happened. Jared Loughner is. But she is responsible for her own words and campaign material.

Of the 20 congresspeople Palin targeted with those ads, 18 of them lost their seats (including three who retired and were succeeded by Palin’s endorsed candidate). Only two of Palin’s 20 “targets” were reelected, and one of them was shot through the brain at point-blank range yesterday.1

If there’s nothing wrong with Palin’s gunsight crosshair imagery, then I’m sure she’ll use it again in 2012.

  1. The other is Nick Rahall, representing West Virginia’s third district. (He’s erroneously listed as representing West Virginia’s second district on Palin’s target list.) ↩︎