Earlier today a lone gunman opened fire in front of a supermarket in Arizona. He killed a nine year old child, a federal judge, and two others. He shot U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords in the head and wounded several other people. Police have 22 year old Jared Loughner in custody for the crime.
The Internet is exploding with theories and commentary about the shooting. The shooter had a MySpace page which has been taken down and also has a series of strange videos on YouTube which discuss U.S. currency and other ramblings. Was the shooting politically motivated? Was Loughner just a deranged young man? We don’t have the facts yet. But there are two things we know for sure.
First, guns kill. Shooters pull the trigger, no doubt. But they couldn’t deliver the bullets without the guns.
Second, the political rhetoric and culture of hate in this country is out of control. We live in a time when former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin published a list of political targets marked with gun crossfires. Palin also delivered the infamous tweet, “Don’t retreat. Instead–reload.” Tea Party members rally with signs that say, “We come unarmed… this time” and “I own a gun and I didn’t bring it … yet.”
We live in a time when Sharron Angle, who ran for Senate last year, floated ideas about armed revolutions to fight “tyranny” and Giffords’ opponent in the last election hosted a campaign event inviting people to “target” Giffords at which his supporters could shoot an M16. Our so-called political leaders are stoking the flames of hate.
Yes, the shooter is responsible for pulling the trigger. But we need those who engage in hate talk and reference violence to examine the impact of their words. Arizona Sherriff Dupnik said after the shootings, “The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous… There’s reason to believe that this individual might have a mental issue, and I think that people who are unbalanced might be especially susceptible to vitriol.” Words have power and the speakers have influence. We need them to have social responsibility.
And hopefully, as a country, we know that we don’t want to continue down this path. We want to move forward with tolerance, healthy debate and on common ground. This is not who we were. This is not who we will be.