First, let’s to turn some facts about the murderer, Jared Loughner, starting with his personal animosity towards Rep. Giffords, which apparently dates back to a 2007 encounter he had with her at event like the one he shot up last Saturday. It bears noting that this event pre-dates both the rise of the Tea Party and Sarah Palin’s selection by John McCain to be his running mate in 2008, prior to which she was relatively unknown outside Alaska. According to a Wall Street Journal article, "[a] safe at Mr. Loughner's home contained a form letter from Ms. Giffords' office thanking him for attending a 2007 'Congress on your Corner' event in Tucson." According to the Journal piece, Loughner’s "safe also held an envelope with handwritten notes, including the name of Ms. Giffords, as well as 'I planned ahead,' 'My assassination,' and what appeared to be Mr. Loughner's signature, according to an FBI affidavit." One high school friend’s only recollection of Loughner’s political opinions was him expressing some "frustration with the Bush Administration."
Even more enlightening is an interview conducted by Nick Baumann of Mother Jones, which can hardly be accused of being a conservative rag, with a friend of Loughner’s, Bryce Tierney, whom the killer called just 8 hours prior to going on his rampage. "Tierney," Baumann writes, "recalls Loughner complaining about a Giffords event he attended" back in 2007. Tierney is "unsure whether it was the same one mentioned in the charges" (i.e., the one for which he received the form letter found in his home safe). Tierney went on to say that Loughner "might have gone to some other [Giffords] rallies," but, Baumann continues, the 2007 Q and A event "was a significant moment for Loughner." Tierney recalls Loughner telling him about the 2007 event during which Rep. Giffords "opened up the floor for questions and he asked a question. The question was, 'What is government if words have no meaning?' Giffords' answer, whatever it was, didn't satisfy Loughner. He said, 'Can you believe it, they wouldn't answer my question,' and [Tierney] told him, 'Dude, no one's going to answer that.'" From the time on, recalls Tierney "he thought she was fake, he had something against her."
From that time forward, Tierney told Baumann, "Loughner would occasionally mention Giffords," but "[i]t wasn't a day-in, day-out thing, but maybe once in a while…the thing I remember most is just that question. I don't remember him stalking her or anything." According to Baumann, Tierney went on to state "that Loughner did not display any specific political or ideological bent: 'It wasn't like he was in a certain party or went to rallies...It's not like he'd go on political rants.'" According to Tierney, Loughner believed "that government is 'fucking us over.'" Now, if we’re going to start filling our courtrooms with people who, whether on the political left or right, state such a forthright view of the government, then our constitutional rights are, indeed, imperiled!
I cannot agree more with David Weigel, who writes in Slate urging Pennsylvania representative Bob Brady not go forward with legislation "making it a crime to use words or images that looked violent or threatening to public officials." Opines Brady, "You can't put bull's eyes or cross-hairs on a United States congressman or a federal official," which, by the way Sarah Palin’s website does not do, it has images of crosshairs over maps of congressional districts, which are targeted for political action, not nuclear obliteration, or random shooting sprees. Citing no evidence whatsoever, Brady goes on to parrot the prevalent ideological view that "[t]he rhetoric is just ramped up so negatively, so high, that we have got to shut this down." Weigel goes on to ask whether it "[w]ould it be rude to point out" that there is "no evidence—none—that violent pictures or words inspired the violence in Arizona."
I for one think that urging others to act in accordance with reality is necessary for civil discourse precisely because what we say matters a great deal. When it comes to responding to heartbreaking tragedies, it seems that for every action there is an unequal and slightly askew legislative overreaction of the kind Rep. Brady is proposing. I remember the call for "tighter gun laws" in the wake of the Columbine massacre, despite the fact that one could enumerate many, many federal, state, and local gun laws and ordinances that were broken in the commission of those horrific crimes, going all the way back to the illegalities involved in the way the murderers procured the firearms they used to mow down students, staff, and faculty of Columbine High School. Such overreactions might make you feel better, but they don’t make you safer, just less free.
If the net result of Jared Lee Loughner’s hideous crime is placing restrictions on speech, then we are at the whim of unhinged people like him and become a less rational society, which by definition means a less civil society. It is utterly unconscionable to pin Loughner’s evil deeds on one’s political opponents. Using a tragedy like this to settle political scores not only strikes me as uncivil, but utterly dishonest and lacking in integrity. As one who frequently reminds myself and others that how we make our point is as important as the point we seek to make, I can hardly be accused of not being concerned about civility and even charity in public discourse, which is why I proposed the Ephesians 4:29 Rule.