As Giffords Clings to Life, New Concerns About Discourse
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As Giffords Clings to Life, New Concerns About Discourse

The Associated Press

Gabrielle Giffords, the three-term Democratic congresswoman from southeastern Arizona, clings to life today after being shot in the head at point-blank range during a rampage outside a Safeway store in Tucson on Saturday. Six people were killed, including a close aide of the congresswoman’s, Gabe Zimmerman, as well as U.S. federal district judge John M. Roll. More than a dozen other people in the small crowd at Saturday’s “Congress on Your Corner” event have also been wounded, and five are said to be in critical condition. A total of 20 people were shot.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democratic congresswoman from Florida and a close friend of Gabrielle Giffords, described the injured congresswoman on NBC’s Meet the Press this morning as “the kind of person who tries to see the good in everyone. She always looks on the bright side. She’s a glass-half-full type of person.”

Wrestled to the ground after the shooting and in police custody is 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, who prior to Saturday’s rampage had posted nonsensical rantings on various social media sites and had had at least two run-ins with law enforcement. Described as unhinged and mentally unstable, he used a semi-automatic Glock 19 pistol, purchased legally in November at a Tuczon sporting goods store.

President Obama called Saturday’s events “an unspeakable tragedy,” while John Boehner, the new Speaker of the House, said that “an attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve.” In a brief appearance in Ohio on Sunday, the Speaker also said that the rampage would not keep representatives from going about their normal duties.

In light of the shootings, all regular House business this week has been postponed, including the vote to repeal health-care reform. Flags at the Capitol Building in Washington are flying at half mast.

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, had strong words in the aftermath of yesterday’s event. “I am horrified by the violent attack on Representative Gabrielle Giffords and other innocent people by a wicked person who has no sense of justice or compassion,” said McCain. “Whoever did this; whatever their reason, they are a disgrace to Arizona, this country and the human race, and they deserve and will receive the contempt of all decent people and the strongest punishment of the law.”

Issues of Police Protection and Political Vitriol
While authorities have now cleared a possible accomplice – a man in his 40s or 50s with dark hair has been identified as the cab driver who drove Loughner to the site – questions are now arising about the amount of police protection warranted for members of Congress. Currently only the top two members of each party, in each chamber, have full-time security detail from the U.S. Capitol Police, as does the president pro tempore of the Senate. Capitol Hill police on Saturday urged members and staff to "take reasonable and prudent precautions regarding their personal safety and security."

Congressional members reported 42 cases of threats or violence in the first three months of 2010, according to The Huffington Post. That's nearly three times the amount reported during the same period one year earlier. Nearly all of the incidents dealt with the health care bill, and Giffords was among the targets.

According to her aides, Giffords routinely met with constituents to hear their concerns and thoughts, accompanied by assistants but not police detail. "She's always been open and accessible," her press secretary, C. J. Karamargin, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Saturday. "She's never shied away from opportunities to meet with constituents, even when the topic was a bit hot and heavy, like the health-care town halls.  She charged into those and has never been terribly concerned about things like this [the shooting rampage], because we never had any indication things like this could happen." Last year her office in Tucson, however, was vandalized during the health-care debates.

“We must in a democracy have access to our constituents,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), on Meet the Press on Sunday morning. At the same time, Cleaver and others acknowledged the increasing political vitriol in the country right now, some of which Cleaver said comes straight out of Washington. “I think members of Congress need to turn down the volume and exercise some high level of civility, or this darkness will never, ever be overcome with light,” said Cleaver.

Related Links:
Rampage  Casts Grim Light on U.S. Political Discourse (The Washington Post)
Arizona Shooting Touches Off Fierce Debate Over Political Rhetoric (ABC News)