The shooting of US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, in which six other people died, has left the USA more polarised than ever.
The Arizona representative was specifically targeted by gunman Jared Loughner, according to documents accompanying the murder charges laid against him. Loughner opened fire at a public get-together in Tucson attended by Giffords, who suffered serious head wounds for which she is still being treated. A nine-year-old girl and a federal judge were among those killed.
In the wake of the tragedy, the finger-pointing and inflamed rhetoric that has come to typify US politics was escalated. Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik, a Democrat and political ally of Giffords, lashed out at conservative media commentators, accusing them of being the catalyst for such violence. He particularly cited Rush Limbaugh. "He attacks people, angers them against government, angers them against elected officials, and that kind of behaviour in my opinion is not without consequences,” Dupnik told ABC News.
Other commentators used the incident to further criticise America’s liberal gun laws – Arizona is one of three states where concealed weapons may be carried without a permit. Republican presidential wannabe Sarah Palin copped some stick too, over a Facebook posting featuring a map in which the districts of 20 representatives, including Giffords’, were marked with the cross-hairs of a gun sight (see tinyurl.com/y9s42lq). Giffords is a supporter of health care reform, and her Tucson office had been attacked previously.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman (tinyurl.com/2dow24z) accused the political Right of indulging in "eliminationist rhetoric”. Former Senator Gary Hart, blogging on The Huffington Post (tinyurl.com/3x28vro), attacked "blatant efforts to inflame, anger, and outrage”.
Conservatives were quick to hit back. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer (tinyurl.com/9rw8x) said the accusations were "reckless, scurrilous and unsupported by evidence”. In the same paper, George F. Will (tinyurl.com/yyvyyd) spoke of "McCarthyism of the left”. Loughner, conservatives argued, was just another lunatic inspired only by the voices in his own head.
But as the Christian Science Monitor reported (tinyurl.com/4q3wntb), what the shootings have not done is inspire any further political moves towards tighter gun controls. In fact, a week after the Giffords shooting, one gun store owner in Arizona reported his sales were up 60% on the same time last year.
For more about the shooting, see tinyurl.com/4mzmdvz