As you've probably heard by now, on Saturday United States Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was shot in the head at point blank range by a 22 year-old man named Jared Loughner while she addressed supporters at a public speaking event in Arizona. Ms. Giffords was the narrow winner in a 2010 House race against Tea Party supported candidate Jesse Kelly.
Several times during this past year's midterm election, many of the Tea Party Republicans and their respective followers consistently made reference to the need to inject guns and/or violence into our political discourse. Some of them even felt the need to bring loaded weapons to political rallies. Sharon Angle, a Tea Party candidate in Nevada who lost to Senator Harry Ried in the 2010 midterms, coined the phrase "2nd Amendment Remedies" during an interview when she explained how the people should deal with the government if the votes don't go their way. In a similarly reckless attempt to rally Tea Party supporters, Sarah Palin suggested that people "reload" to take out Democratic supporters of Obamacare. Consequently, one of those Democratic "targets" was Representative Gabrielle Giffords. (see pic at right, left column of names, 4th from the top) Per CBS News:
We do not yet know what prompted 22-year-old accused gunman Jared Loughner to allegedly shoot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and others, including a child and federal judge who died from their wounds.But let's be clear, this ignorance is not just limited to the Tea Party. This type of violent rhetoric has ramped up in the media significantly since Obama was elected in 2008. At first it was disturbing, troubling even, when media figures would suggest taking out the President or others they disagreed with politically but then we heard it so often that it practically became commonplace. But it's not commonplace and America, of all countries, should know better than to suggest or even joke about resorting to violence in our politics.
But critics of Sarah Palin have already drawn a link between the shooting and the fact that the former Alaska governor put Giffords on a "target list" of lawmakers Palin wanted to see unseated in the midterm elections.
In March, Palin released a map featuring 20 House Democrats that used crosshairs images to show their districts. (You can see it here.) Critics suggested at the time that she was inciting violence by using the crosshairs imagery and for later writing on Twitter to her supporters, "'Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!'"
The people who use this type of violent rhetoric to incite the general public have, up until now, done so with impunity. However, perhaps if any silver lining can be divined from Ms. Gifford's tragic shooting it is that those same people will no longer be able to do so for the immediate political future. Moreover, given this politically charged environment, an incident like this may allow prosecutors to hold people who suggest these type of "2nd Amendment Remedies" criminally responsible. Contrary to popular belief, the 1st Amendment Freedom of Speech is not absolute. It does have exceptions and one of those exceptions is when speech leads to violence against others. See Gitlow v. New York, although the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits states from infringing free speech, a defendant was properly convicted under New York's criminal anarchy law for advocating the violent overthrow of the government through the dissemination of Communist pamphlets).
Still not convinced? Consider the following:
Accessory Before the Fact: "one whose counsel or instigation leads another to commit a crime."
Legalities aside, it is the height of irresponsibility to encourage people to use guns or violence to solve our political problems, and then, when a politician gets shot, act as if you had no idea such a thing could happen. Really? What did you actually think would happen when you told a group of politically charged right-wingers to look into "2nd Amendment Remedies" and to "Reload" against Democrats? Or did you think at all?
Even if Jared Loughner was not motivated by right-wing fringe speech, at what point do we begin to hold the "2nd Amendment Remedies" politicians and media figures responsible for tragedies like the attack on Gabrielle Giffords?
Watch this video of Gabrielle Giffords back in March of last year during the height of the Health Care debate. Particularly, note what she has to say at the 2:10 mark; she effectively predicted something like this would happen: