Eugene T. Paslov: Hate speech has no place in political marketplace of ideas

We were stunned by the senseless shootings of 19 people in Tucson last Saturday.

A beloved Congresswomen, Gabrielle Giffords, was shot through the brain while conducting a Congress on Your Corner meeting in a Safeway parking lot.

She still is alive but her future physical and mental well being remains unclear. A federal Judge, John M. Roll, a good friend of Rep. Giffords, stopped by after attending Mass to say hello and was murdered on the spot. So was a 9-year-old girl, Christina Greene, visiting the political gathering. Ironically, Christina was born on Sept. 11, 2001, was a member of her student council, and was taken to the political gathering by a neighbor to see a typical American political activity. Other staff members and constituents were senselessly killed or wounded.

Jared Loughner, apparently mentally unstable and allegedly angry at Congresswoman Giffords over something she had done, perpetrated the senseless shootings. At this point we don't know exactly why. She had taken bitter commentary during the most recent mid-term election over her support for immigration and health care reform, and even had her office vandalized. Our system of partisan politics requires vigorous debate, but something went tragically amiss on Jan. 8 in Tucson.

Anti-government rhetoric and partisan hatred have consequences. Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, commenting about his friend Giffords, indicated that she had been subjected to violent threats during her campaign. He went on to suggest that that we (in Arizona and throughout the nation) were confronted with new levels of vitriol, perpetrated by some radio and cable TV talk show hosts.

As President Clinton noted some time ago, angry, hateful speech may trigger violence among those who are already "unstable and unhinged." Sheriff Dupnik made the same point. All of us must assume more responsibility for what we say in political discussions; I realize it's difficult but we must try to exercise civility.

We are also the most heavily armed, least weapons-regulated, industrialized nation in the world. Arizona has virtually no gun controls and people can legally carry concealed weapons. Without getting into a bitter discussion of the meaning of the Second Amendment, there must be something a civilized nation can do to prevent the mentally deranged from purchasing and owning semi-automatic handguns. Simply saying, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people," or "law enforcement just needs to enforce the current laws" is not sufficient to prevent the unspeakable horror that occurred in Tucson.

We must make the language of our politics more humane. Anti-government, partisan hate and anger have no place in a civilized society.

• Eugene Paslov is a board member of the Davidson Academy at the University of Nevada, Reno and the former Nevada state superintendent of schools.


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