For the past week we have all watched with horror the unfolding of events in Tucson. The conversation quickly turned to violent rhetoric spotted by politicians and their supporters. As we watch some of the more notable instances of violent rhetoric being defended as free speech it seems that for many freedom of speech also means freedom from common sense.
U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords continues to improve from a gunshot wound to the head received in the mass shooting outside of a Safeway store in Tucson on January 8. Although it appears that Gabrielle Giffords was the intended target 19 people were shot leaving six dead. Newly elected student council member, Nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green, was the youngest and possibly the most memorable victim of the shooting. For many of us the photos of Christina will be forever etched into our minds, a child who was born on a day of national tragedy and only nine years later became the victim of a day of national tragedy.
The events of January 8 led to a barrage of accusations and finger pointing regarding violent political rhetoric that seems to be the norm for some politicians and their supporters. We all heard the reports of campaign rallies held at shooting ranges with slogans such as “Lets take out Gabrielle Giffords” and cross hairs being drawn over democratically held districts (including Gabrielle Giffords) with slogans saying “Don’t retreat, reload”. I do not mention these two exercises in “Free Speech” to say that one party is more inclined to make such statements than the other, but rather because they have been the most publicized and seem to be the most relevant.
To the best of anyone’s knowledge these statements had nothing to do with the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords but they do bring about an interesting debate under the circumstances. Does our constitutional right to freedom of speech absolve us of responsibility for the outcome? If we incite violence under the guise of “Free Speech are we then not responsible for the resulting violence?
If, in fact, we believe that our freedom of speech is open ended then how can it be that Tucson shooting victim, James Eric Fuller, was arrested for yelling “your dead” to tea party leader, Trent Humphries. There was no act of violence committed so was he not simply exercising his right to free speech?
We could take the debate a bit further by asking the question: are we not all culpable to some degree for the outcome if we support in any way those who stoop to such levels as a means to gain political power? Do we, as Americans, not have a responsibility to make it clear to those who seek to lead our country that this is unacceptable?
This is a debate that will no doubt go on well into the future. At the end of the day it will most likely come down to an individual decision. As we enjoy the freedom that comes with being an American we must also understand that those freedoms come with responsibilities. Will we continue to support this type of irresponsible use of our freedoms or will we take a stand against it?