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opinion/commentary View Comments

Connections and Consequences
By Stephen Kent
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Monday, January 10, 2011
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Of all the comments—thoughtful and absurd—since the Jan. 8 Arizona shooting spree that left six dead and U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in critical condition with a head wound, two stand out for being the alpha and omega of bringing context to the events.

This from John Ellinwood:

"I don't see the connection," between fundraisers featuring weapons and the shootings. "I don't know this person; we cannot find any records that he was associated with the campaign in any way. I just don't see the connection.

"Arizona is a state where people are firearms owners—this was just a deranged individual."

Ellinwood is a spokesperson for Gifford's opponent in last November's election.
During his campaign, Republican challenger Jesse Kelly held fundraisers where he urged supporters to help by joining him to shoot a fully loaded M-16 rifle. Kelly is a former Marine who served in Iraq and was pictured on his website in military gear holding his automatic weapon and promoting the event.

Again Ellinwood:

"I just don't see the connection."

The connection that Ellinwood is so remarkably unable to make is that of a deranged individual swimming in the cesspool of violence and finding firearms to be an acceptable solution to his problem.

"Deranged individual." That is always the title, the alibi given perpetrators so the rest of us can take comfort in the fact he's not like us.

I've never been a fan of the "we are all guilty" mantra that follows outrages and tragedies, but I am more than willing to make an exception this time.

We are guilty of adding to the polluted atmosphere anytime we let a hateful, violence-inciting remark pass unchallenged.

Using the First Amendment to justify inciting to violence and the Second Amendment to justify possession of semi-automatic weapons with the primary purpose of killing— lots of killing—is specious.

The connection that Ellinwood and others—for he certainly is not alone—cannot make is creating an explosive climate that can set off someone such as the Arizona assassin.

The broadcast and web loudmouths who day after day extol violence and hate and encourage it are at fault. "We don't really mean it literally, it's just an expression" doesn't cut it.

It is not denigrating to say there are many people who cannot think as well as do others, who are unable to process and analyze information into sensate thought.

The talk of "take back government" and ".45 justice" and other remarks from talk radio are taken seriously by "deranged individuals." The rabble-rousers are parasites living on the credibility built carefully over decades by professional journalists and responsible media.

Inciting to riot is a crime. Shouting fire in a crowed theater is unprotected speech. A constant stream of hate against public officials is wrong.

Law enforcement officials say members of Congress reported 42 cases of threats or violence in the first three months of 2010, nearly three times the 15 cases reported during the same period a year earlier. And this does not include people who go to school board and civic hearings with guns in their pockets and murder in their hearts.

As with all national atrocities and outrages, the cycle will continue. The background of the perpetrator will be scrutinized, and then some years later a trial, then several appeals and if all goes well, we will then kill the killer to show our objection to killing.
So what can an individual do, an individual who abhors what happened and would never be a part of such a thing?

Take a strong position against such talk. Hearing a comment from a conversation partner, at a party, should bring the same vehement reaction as an insult to spouse or parent.

Call the person out and say that kind of language—whether inciting to violence or maternal ursine nonsense—is unacceptable in your presence.

Ellinwood was at one end. At the other is Giffords referring in an earlier interview to campaign signs depicting her congressional district as a target in the crosshairs of a gun sight.

"When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action," Giffords said in an interview with MSNBC.

There is a connection. And, sadly, there are consequences.

(Kent, now retired, was editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle. He may be contacted at: considersk@gmail.com.)


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