Democrats lash out at inflammatory rhetoric following shooting

Following the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), some Democrats are targeting political rhetoric they say could encourage violent behavior.

Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said the event was "both a personal tragedy and a tragic reminder that we cannot remain silent when political rhetoric turns violent."

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said, "America must not tolerate violence or inflammatory rhetoric that incites political violence."

"Even though we do not have all the answers yet, we are all too familiar with the violent and polarizing climate in which we live," said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), the new chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. "Those of us in leadership must be overly cautious of fanning the flames of extremism in hopes to prevent another horrendous tragedy such as this."

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence called for a return to civil political discourse.


"We ... are deeply concerned about the heated political rhetoric that escalates debates and controversies, and sometimes makes it seem as if violence is an acceptable response to honest disagreements," said Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke in a statement.

It is not known at this time whether the shooter had political motivations.

Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips condemned the attack on Giffords, but warned backers that the Tea Party movement would have to defend itself from attacks by political opponents.

"While we need to take a moment to extend our sympathies to the families of those who died, we cannot allow the hard left to do what it tried to do in 1995 after the Oklahoma City bombing," he said.

Giffords was shot in the head at a public event in Tucson, Ariz., Saturday. She is currently in critical condition, but her surgeon said he was "very optimistic."

Giffords was one of several lawmakers who reported either threats or vandalism during the debate on healthcare reform. She reported in March that the front door to her Tucson office had been smashed. Both Democratic and Republican leaders denounced the threats.

In the lead-up to the 2010 midterm elections, there was occasional criticism that some rhetoric from politicians might be suggestive of violence.

During her contentious failed campaign against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Sharron Angle suggested people might look to "second amendment remedies" and that "the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out." 

Angle said she was speaking broadly, but acknowledged that it may have been "a little strong."

And former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was criticized after her political action committee used an image of a map with crosshairs over 20 districts won by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential election that had lawmakers who voted in support of the healthcare reform package. Giffords's district was among those listed.

On Saturday, Palin offered her condolences to the shooting victims.

"My sincere condolences are offered to the family of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of today's tragic shooting in Arizona," she posted on her Facebook page. "On behalf of Todd and my family, we all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice."


—Updated at 6:00 pm.