U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was shot in the head at close range Jan. 8 at a constituency event in Tucson, Ariz., and is in critical condition. Federal Judge John Roll and a 9-year-old girl, Christina Taylor Green, who was born on Sept. 11, 2001, were killed. Four others were also killed. Fourteen other people were shot.
The suspected shooter, Jared Loughner, a white 22-year-old, reportedly emptied his 9mm Glock handgun in the crowd. When he attempted to reload, he was tackled and held down until police arrived.
Details and motives for the killings will be forthcoming in the days ahead. Decent politicians will continue to condemn the violence.
Some activists will continue to argue that the widespread availability of guns and incendiary political speech have nothing to do with what happened – as if our society lacks any interconnectivity and the mentally unbalanced have no triggers that cause horrible actions.
Responsible moral individuals will take another road from the special-interest activists who believe guns don’t kill people and ideological extremism doesn’t produce extreme consequences.
President Barack Obama said, “Such a senseless and terrible act of violence has no place in a free society.” He called the shooting an “unspeakable tragedy.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) condemned the rampage in a statement.
“An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve,” Boehner rightly said. “Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society.”
Other politicians weighed in with their condemnation.
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the new House majority leader, took action. He said the Republican Party’s scheduled vote on Wednesday to repeal the health care law would be postponed.
Rep. Giffords did vote for the national health care reform bill, after which her Tucson office was vandalized.
Regrettably, Sarah Palin’s Facebook page placed gun sight crosshairs over Giffords’ congressional district and that of other Democrats during the last election.
At the time, Giffords noted that Palin had targeted her and said, “When people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that.”
Asked on Saturday if his daughter had enemies, her father, Spencer Giffords, said, “Yeah…The whole Tea Party.”
Trent Humphries, a Tucson Tea Party organizer, said, “We do not condone violence.”
He said that Loughner was not on the Tucson Tea Party contact list.
To date no one has spoken with more clarity about the national ethos surrounding the violence than Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who said, “It is a sad day for America.”
At a press conference on Jan. 8, the sheriff said, “It’s time as a country that we need to do a little soul searching” about the “vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day-in and day-out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business.”
Tucson’s long-time law enforcement chief spoke to how “unbalanced people” react “to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government.”
He said: “The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous and unfortunately Arizona has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”
Dupnik noted that the hateful rhetoric “may be free speech, but it’s not without consequences.”
Overheated rhetoric has indeed become too common place:
· Sharron Angle, Tea Party candidate in Nevada, referred to “domestic enemies” in Congress and suggested that the nation might need “Second Amendment remedies.”
· Alabama Republican congressional candidate Rick Barber ran an ad in which a George Washington figure listened to Obama’s agenda, then said, “Gather your armies.”
· A liberal blogger at Daily Kos wrote that Giffords was “now dead to me” when she voted against Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s re-election to Democratic House leadership.
EthicsDaily.com has noted repeatedly the increased political hate in the United States: the demonization of Muslims; the hate talk of Franklin Graham; the fanning of conspiratorial fears of the Birthers; the falsehood about terror babies; and the anger-generating accusations by Baptist preachers and Tea Party activists who claim the government is not listening when they don’t get their way.
EthicsDaily.com columnist Zach Dawes wrote about the responsibility of free speech, and Miguel De La Torre warned that extreme rhetoric might set the stage for violence. James Evans explored the motivations of the angry town-hall mobs. Larry Greenfield cautioned about letting rhetoric rule. Wendell Griffen wondered about the white supremacy of the Tea Party. Brian Kaylor did a news story about how Christian leaders repeated the lie of 2010 about “a government takeover of health care.”
Others have offered their cultural critique, moral advocacy and biblical application to society – all in an attempt to advance the common good in the public square.
What more can we do?
Let’s begin with a confession that “no man is an island.” We are interconnected, interdependent. Statements and actions of a few have consequences on the entire community.
Let’s encourage leaders who speak for less heated, self-righteous rhetoric and for more statements based on truth and care for neighbor.
And what if we decided to go cold turkey for one week on political talk radio and cable TV shows in which hosts – both right and left – throw verbal bombs?
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.