The tragic Tucson shooting spree this January provoked a deluge of analysis and opinion, much of it centered on the sorry state of our public discourse, and some of it actually enlightening.
As we are too well aware, rhetorical violence and incivility permeate today's political speech, and that has been particularly acute in Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s district (her electoral opponent last fall, for example, offered funders the chance to "shoot a fully automatic M-16"). But it's fair to say that there is not a direct link between such speech and Jared Loughner's decision to buy a gun in November and direct it against the "Congress on Your Corner" event in January.
In the wake of the shooting, much attention has justifiably focused on Loughner's mental illness, drug use, and apparently troubled family life. But schizophrenia alone (assuming that's the diagnosis of reported shooter Loughner) is no catchall explanation for violence; schizophrenics are no more likely to commit murder than are substance abusers. And thus much of the post-melee analysis has focused on the vitriol in our public debate, and whether or not it contributed to the actions of a mentally unstable person.
But even if there is little evidence that the shooter's actions were based on poisonous political discourse, the question remains: How much do we want our discourse to bear any resemblance to his action?