Is no one safe anymore? The assassination attempt on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the ensuing massacre at a Tucson, Ariz., shopping center serve as a cruel reminder of what can happen when disparate forces of evil conspire to shatter our sense of security and civility.
This heinous effort to silence an elected official through political assassination must serve as a wake-up call to harness the vitriol that can lead to incitement, and to enact laws that keep our citizens and leaders as safe as possible.
It is probably mere coincidence that this senseless violence came on the eve of the nation's commemoration of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was shot down because a deranged individual opposed his dream of civil liberties for all Americans.
We as Jews also remember the horror of another painful assassination, that of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was murdered in cold blood by a sick young man opposed to the Israeli leader's willingness to seek peace with the Palestinians.
In both those instances, opposition to certain policies escalated into a climate of hate, with presumably responsible public officials preaching extremist positions that implicitly or explicitly endorsed violence.
Since Saturday's murderous rampage in Tucson, much has been written about the level of rhetoric plaguing our society today. Was it the kind of venom espoused by Sarah Palin and others that led Jared Loughner to shoot Giffords in the head? There are reports that Loughner had opposed Giffords before Palin's PAC targeted the Arizona congresswoman's political district, using an image that put her in the "crosshairs."
Likewise, did Arizona's lenient gun laws — which enable an "unstable" individual to walk into a neighborhood gun store, and purchase a semi-automatic weapon and carry it without a permit — contribute to this massacre?
We may never know the answers to these questions. But we can't help believe that each of these forces — on their own and certainly in concert — creates a climate that allows for such insanity to wreak such destruction.
Now, even as the families of a federal judge, a 9-year-old girl, and four others are mourning the loss of their loved ones struck down prematurely, bickering over the rhetoric itself continues.
We live in the most vibrant democracy in the world, not some Third World nation where political assassinations are a common occurence. As we pray for a speedy recovery for Giffords and as we commemorate King, let's use this week's travesty as a wake-up call to remember that words and actions have consequences.
Let's have the vigorous debates over health care and immigration and gun control, but let's let the ballot boxes — not bullets — determine the results.