Today a young man walked into a public meeting at a Safeway supermarket in Tucson, Arizona, and shot Congressswoman Gabrielle Gifford through the head with a semi-automatic pistol. She is in critical condition after surgery, but is expected to survive.
He shot seventeen other people, six of whom have died. One was a federal judge, John Roll. Another was a Gifford staff member.
One was a nine-year old girl. Her name has not been released.
The New York Times reports that Judge Roll had received death threats in 2009 during an immigration case when he had allowed a lawsuit filed by illegal immigrants against a rancher to go forward. Rep. Gifford's office was vandalized after she voted for the health care bill. According to The Washington Post, she had been "targeted" by some Republican activists who wanted her voted out of office in 2010. Her district was one of several in the country depicted in the crosshairs of a gunsight on a widely-distributed map. That same paper reports that "Arizona tea party activists voice shock at shooting".
I believe that to be true. I believe that there is genuine shock and dismay across the entire political spectrum this day. But I also believe that, among the many positive attributes of our culture, we are a careless culture. Like a small child, we seem to have little or no sense of the consequences of our speech and actions. We embrace a rhetoric of violence.
And then are are shocked when the violence leaps beyond rhetoric.
I do not have an answer. But I am thinking tonight of the rarely-sung second verse of America the Beautiful, the song I believe should be the American national anthem:
O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife,
who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life!
America, America! God mend thy every flaw,
confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.
(as printed in The Hymnal 1982 of the Episcopal Church)