Was Violent Political Rhetoric Responsible for Arizona Shooting?

Saturday's shooting at a Tucson political event left six dead and 14 wounded.

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In the aftermath of Saturday’s tragic shooting in Tucson, six people were dead and 14 wounded, including Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the apparent target. A working theory is that Jared Loughner, the 22-year-old now charged with attempted assassination of a member of Congress, is mentally unstable: He left a trail of odd YouTube videos; he was rejected from military service; and his community college kicked him out unless he got a mental health professional to determine he was not a danger to himself or others. One of his classmates told NBC’s Today Show she complained to her professor last year, saying Loughner’s behavior frightened her—she even worried he might come into the classroom with guns blazing someday.

But many believe the increasingly violent political rhetoric in this country created an atmosphere which helped lead to the event. Most famously, last year Sarah Palin published a map that put cross hairs on districts of Democratic incumbents vying for reelection—including Giffords’s district—and used phrases like “Don’t retreat; reload.” And Giffords’s 2010 opponent held a target-practice event in June where supporters could shoot automatic M16s to “Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office.” [See Robert Schlesinger: " Palin Aide's Inane Bullseye Map Defense"]

U.S. News blogger Susan Milligan writes that politicos who used such rhetoric should take some responsibility, “not for the horrific crime itself, but for accelerating a hostile and highly provocative environment that at its best, prevents Congress from working together and at worst, results in tragedy.”

But U.S. News blogger Robert Schlesinger believes it’s too soon to have that argument. He writes: “Ascribing a political motive or philosophy to an apparent madman before we have all the facts does little to calm the tone of our politics, and it threatens to distract from the unfolding tragedy by refocusing attention on familiar rote debates.”

Free speech is a bedrock of our democracy, but are people taking that free speech too far?

What do you think? Is political rhetoric at least partly responsible for the Tucson shooting? Take the poll and post your thoughts below.

This poll is now closed, but the debate continues in the comments section.

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