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(c) by Mary Griggs

I am heartsick after learning of the 22-year-old gunman who went to a public constituent meeting in Tucson with a 9mm handgun. Once there, he opened fire, killing a federal judge, a 9-year-old child and four others and wounding thirteen others, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Some might argue that the actions in Arizona today are not domestic terrorism. They contend that what happened today was entirely the actions of a single sick and twisted individual. Lunatics are so much easier to dismiss, especially for those who do not wish to acknowledge their culpability in the tragedy.

Terrorism is the calculated use of violence (or the threat of violence) against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature; this is done through intimidation or coercion or instilling fear.

To my mind, that definition completely covers taking a weapon to a political rally and shooting 19 people who had peaceably assembled. Based on the anti-government YouTube ramblings and MySpace posts of alleged shooter, Jared Loughner, it certainly seems to fit the US Code definition: “the term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets.” (U.S. Code Title 22, Ch.38, Para. 2656f(d)2)

I do believe that the man who pulled the trigger is ultimately responsible for the consequences of his actions. However, his hearing the rhetoric of violence and intimidation during the recent election cycle could have contributed to his putting those words he heard into tragic action. Prominent individuals calling for ‘second amendment solutions’ (Sharon Angel) or telling their supporters to ‘not retreat, reload’ (Sarah Palin) contribute to the likelihood that there will be violence as a result.

The big question is how this country will respond. Will we come together to reduce the climate of fear and hate that characterizes recent discourse? Will we unite in defense of the ballot over the bullet? Or will it be necessary for us to have citizens of opposing politics becoming human shields in the protection of democracy like the Egyptian Muslims who used their bodies to ensure Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas in peace?

No matter what your politics are, in a democracy, violence is not the answer. Besides elections, there are laws and systems in place that allow for peaceful redress of grievances. It has served us so well that, except for the four-year period of the Civil War, the United States has enjoyed more than 200 of years of peaceful transitions of power.

That could all change unless we stand up to the haters. We need to demand that pundits, commentators, elected representatives, and our religious leaders cease their reckless disregard of the truth. We must deal with our homegrown terrorists harshly so that no-one need to fear for their life because they are a different color, different religion, different sexual orientation or different political party from someone else.

I leave you with a sign that has been cropping up in New Orleans for a while. It is a simple message:

We all need to ponder on that for a while.

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