It’s been a long, hard slog, my friends, but we have finally reached it: the absolute pinnacle of cynical exploitation of the Giffords shooting:
Representative Bob Brady of Pennsylvania told The Caucus he plans to introduce a bill that would ban symbols like that now-infamous campaign crosshair map.
“You can’t threaten the president with a bullseye or a crosshair,” Mr. Brady, a Democrat, said, and his measure would make it a crime to do so to a member of Congress or federal employee, as well.
Asked if he believed the map incited the gunman in Tucson, he replied, “I don’t know what’s in that nut’s head. I would rather be safe than sorry.”
He continued, “This is not a wakeup call. This is a major alarm going off. We need to be more civil with each other. We need to tone down this rhetoric.”
There is, of course, a constitutional problem with this — and here is where the dreadful irony comes in. Because the constitutional problem is aptly summed up by the language of the First Amendment — which is read in this video by . . . Gabrielle Giffords:
This is as good a time as any to link Jack Shafer’s excellent defense of inflamed rhetoric:
Embedded in Sheriff Dupnik’s ad hoc wisdom were several assumptions. First, that strident, anti-government political views can be easily categorized as vitriolic, bigoted, and prejudicial. Second, that those voicing strident political views are guilty of issuing Manchurian Candidate-style instructions to commit murder and mayhem to the “unbalanced.” Third, that the Tucson shooter was inspired to kill by political debate or by Sarah Palin’s “target” map or other inflammatory outbursts. Fourth, that we should calibrate our political speech in such a manner that we do not awaken the Manchurian candidates among us.
And, fifth, that it’s a cop’s role to set the proper dimensions of our political debate. Hey, Dupnik, if you’ve got spare time on your hands, go write somebody a ticket.
Sheriff Dupnik’s political sermon came before any conclusive or even circumstantial proof had been offered that the shooter had been incited by anything except the gas music from Jupiter playing inside his head.
For as long as I’ve been alive, crosshairs and bull’s-eyes have been an accepted part of the graphical lexicon when it comes to political debates. Such “inflammatory” words as targeting, attacking, destroying, blasting, crushing, burying, knee-capping, and others have similarly guided political thought and action. Not once have the use of these images or words tempted me or anybody else I know to kill. I’ve listened to, read—and even written!—vicious attacks on government without reaching for my gun. I’ve even gotten angry, for goodness’ sake, without coming close to assassinating a politician or a judge.
From what I can tell, I’m not an outlier. Only the tiniest handful of people—most of whom are already behind bars, in psychiatric institutions, or on psycho-meds—can be driven to kill by political whispers or shouts. Asking us to forever hold our tongues lest we awake their deeper demons infantilizes and neuters us and makes politicians no safer.
If we allow a group of cynical posturers to constrain our speech, we are tossing overboard the ideals of the First Amendment — the very provision that Rep. Giffords was so proud to read on the floor of the House. It is times like these when it is especially important to stand up and say: criminals are responsible for their own actions, and we plan to continue using strong political rhetoric where it is warranted, thank you very much.
And we’re not going to allow you to pretend that the one is responsible for the other.