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A tragedy, plain and simple

Posted: January 11, 2011 2:15 p.m.
Updated: January 12, 2011 5:00 a.m.

The tragic and senseless shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is just another in a long line of such incidents that occur with too much regularity. The Giffords shooting generated a great deal of publicity because she is a United States representative, but such mass violence has become so common that it’s hardly shocking anymore. That’s a shame and a sad commentary. When Richard Speck broke into a Chicago apartment in 1966 and murdered eight nurses, this country was shocked and incredulous, just as it was when Charles Whitman climbed a University of Texas tower that same year and shot 48 people. Now, in many cases, mass murders aren’t even front-page news.

The politicizing of this event, however, by some who wish to make gains for their own viewpoint is tasteless and baseless. Blaming Sarah Palin for fomenting violence makes no more sense than blaming President Obama for his statement during a campaign event that “if they (Republicans) bring knives to a fight, we’ll bring guns.” It’s political rhetoric, and suggesting that either of them had any kind of violence-inducing motive for those statements is beyond reason. However, there are political professionals and hot-winded web sites which are eager to hand out blame.

Politico, a prominent Washington political website, quoted a “veteran political operative” -- now there’s a solid source, eh? -- offering the White House advice “to deftly pin this on the tea partiers.” One anonymously quoted Republican senator laid blame on “town halls and cable TV and talk radio.” The New York Times wrote of “political vitriol” that could have played a part in the shooting.

We have long decried the lack of political civility and compromise in the nation’s capital. But when mentally deranged people have guns in their hands, civil conversation doesn’t have much of an effect on them. The accused killer obviously is a disturbed person, as indicated on his web site ramblings and his belief in conspiracies.

That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be better to tone things down. For instance, Rep. Gifford’s opponent in November’s election held a “targeting victory” fund-raiser in which he invited people to shoot an M-16 with him. That’s a bit over the top, even considering that Giffords openly touted her own familiarity with guns.

But blaming Republicans and conservative Tea Party activists for shootings makes no more sense than blaming the president, liberal Hollywood filmmaker Michael Moore or left-wing political groups. Perhaps Randy Graf, a state legislator who lost to Giffords in 2006, put it best: “People are trying to rationalize an irrational event and in the process of doing that they’re blaming the blameless. The blame is being aimed at everything from the past campaign to the Tea Party when it should rest, by all reports, on the shooter himself.”

We have long lamented the state of the political system in this country, and too much incivility exists. But it’s unrealistic to blame discourse -- even spirited discourse -- for nuts who decide to go on shooting sprees.

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