Viewpoint

Playing the blame game on mass shootings

KRT

Our question of the day: Who – or what – should take the blame?

The reference is to last week’s act of domestic terrorism at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs. Authorities say three people were killed and nine wounded by Robert Dear, an eccentric, 57-year-old recluse.

After his arrest, he is reported to have muttered something about “No more baby parts,” an apparent reference to a controversial hidden-camera video purporting to prove Planned Parenthood harvests and sells the organs of aborted fetuses for a profit, a charge the organization has strenuously denied.

So who is responsible for this atrocity? We frequently hear that someone’s rhetoric is at fault.

This happened four years ago when a mentally ill man killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in Tucson. Jane Fonda blamed Sarah Palin.

It happened last year, when a deranged man ambushed and executed two police officers in Brooklyn. Erick Erickson, a Fox “News” contributor, blamed President Obama.

So one is hardly surprised, in the wake of this latest shooting, that Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood’s executive vice president, blamed the “toxic environment” created by Republican presidential candidates.

If you want to blame someone for this shooting, start with the man who pulled the trigger. You might also investigate what roles were played by the mental health system and the legal system that allowed him access to a weapon of mass destruction.

In the rush to draw the larger moral lesson, one should be wary of absolving the guilty of their crimes. That said, let us note that Laguens’ criticism is qualitatively different from that leveled by Fonda against Palin or Erickson against Obama.

After all, while one has a constitutionally guaranteed right to express one’s opinion, one has no such right to threaten or incite violence. There is, in other words, a fundamental difference between saying “Joe is a terrible person” and saying “Joe needs to get what’s coming to him.”

Have Republicans crossed that line with regard to Planned Parenthood?

Probably not. But they have danced uncomfortably and undeniably close to it. When you habitually refer to abortion providers as Nazis, barbarians and baby killers, you cannot be surprised if someone sees them as less than human.

If you create an environment where violence against some person or group seems righteous – even if you don’t explicitly call for that violence – are your hands wholly clean when the violence comes?

You’ll find no pat answers here – only a question worth pondering for people of conscience in general and the Republican contenders in particular. No, they did not cause this shooting. They are not guilty.

Problem is, they’re not innocent, either.

Email: lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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