One year ago this week, Jared Lee Loughner pointed a Glock Safe Action Pistol at Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and shot her in the head. She fell to the ground; he turned, surveyed the parking lot where Giffords had been meeting voters, and emptied his 33-round clip into the first people he saw. Within two minutes he’d killed six and injured 17; he was only stopped when two would-be victims tackled him, one punching him in the face until he submitted.
This is painful to think about, but we’re lucky. Any national tragedy, given a little time and distance, can be shrunk down to news-cycle size. The one-year anniversary of “Tucson” generated three kinds of news. One: A stupid fight between the chairmen of the Democratic and Republican national committees—the Democrat, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, claimed to see “a very precipitous turn towards edginess and a lack of civility with the growth of the Tea Party movement.” Two: A new quest by Sen. Lisa Murkowski to ban partisan seating at congressional speeches. Three: Some touching TV specials about how Giffords herself was recovering and how the families of Loughner’s victims were dealing.
There’s a gaping gulf between the shooting itself and the glib remembrances that make it into the news. Tom Zoellner’s new book about the shooting, A Safeway in Arizona (Viking), almost fixes this. It’s a close call: Zoellner drives up to the border of some dangerous literary journalism clichés. He knew Giffords. She actually inspired him to quit his dull newspaper job and strike out as a long-form writer, and when she ran for Congress, he worked for her campaign. But he avoids the My Week With Marilyn-style “lessons a famous person taught me” trap. He psychoanalyzes Jared Lee Loughner, but he never claims to understand him. Zoellner’s a flawed, broken narrator, which saves the book from quick or pat answers.
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