By now everyone knows that gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, 22, shot U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D. AZ) as she met with constituents outside a grocery store, killing Arizona's chief federal judge John M. Roll, and five others including a five-year old, and leaving Ms. Giffords fighting for her life with a bullet through her brain.
In this violent nation of ours, there seems to be a disconnect between our Second Amendment "right to keep and bear arms" and hate-filled speech by those on all sides of the political spectrum. After all, people with guns kill thousands of Americans each year.
Incongruous though it might be, while Arizona and the nation were mourning the Arizona dead , at the same time the media was reporting on the Texas Legislature's plans to initiate measures to permit faculty and students to carry concealed weapons onto college campuses and universities. And reportedly people are rushing out to buy guns for "their self-protection." Does anyone really believe that if everyone was "packing heat" at the Arizona grocery store gathering, the shootings would have been prevented.
Many are pointing their fingers at Sarah Palin, who published a map of the United States on her Facebook page containing a list of twenty Democrats who voted for ObamaCare. Each was elected in a district that was formerly held by a Republican. Each location on the map was marked by a crosshair, an easily recognizable symbol for target practice. Congresswoman Giffords is on that list. These politicians in the crosshairs have received death threats. Their offices and homes and the homes of their family members have been vandalized. Each has been forced to ramp up security measures for themselves and those who are close to them.
Do Palin and others cross the line from free speech into criminal speech with their vitriol? Probably not. For example, Palin's Facebook advertisement would most likely be considered political speech, which is the highest form of protected speech under the First Amendment. But remember, she is a public figure and a former vice presidential candidate with a large following. Her words count to a lot of people, some of whom are mentally unstable. Thus, she and others spewing hate are not blameless when violence inevitably occurs.
There will be much sturm und drang over the shootings. New restrictive guns laws will be proposed and fail to pass. And after all the sound and fury is over, the cycle of killings, hand wringing, and mourning will continue ad infinitum.
Unfortunately, violence against public officials will probably escalate as it has in many other countries unless future political rhetoric becomes more civilized. Will we learn from the Arizona horror? I am hopeful, but not optimistic.
I was born in Massachusetts; graduated from Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School; served as an officer in the Vietnam war; retired from the Federal Trade Commission (consumer and antitrust law); travel extensively with my wife Judi; and since (more...