Murder in Arizona - shooting shocks USA

An American politician has been shot in Arizona. As she fights for her life the debate heats up: did angry politicians encourage her attacker?

For congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Saturday morning was much like any other. But as she talked to locals outside a supermarket in Tucson Arizona, a young man approached, pulled out a handgun, and shot her, at point blank range, through the head.

By the time bystanders managed to tackle him to the ground, the man, later identified as 22-year-old army reject Jared Loughner, had left 13 wounded and six dead, including a senior judge and a nine year old girl. Ms. Giffords, motorcycle enthusiast, beloved wife, and political rising star, lay bleeding on the dry pavement.

Miraculously, Giffords survived her wound, although she remains in critical condition. Doctors are optimistic that she will recover, but her brain could be permanently damaged. Her promising political career may well be at an end.

The attack, though shocking, did not come entirely out of the blue. Giffords had received death threats in the past and in March last year a glass window in her office was shattered by a shot from an air rifle.

Why so much anger? The answer lies in the divided nature of American politics. The two parties, Democratic and Republican, have been at each other’s throats over a string of issues, from new laws on health care to action on climate change.

And the political rhetoric has been steadily heating up. One opposing politician talked of the possibility of citizens taking up weapons to resist a “tyrannical” government.

Another, Sarah Palin, published a list of vulnerable Democrat politicians, pinpointing their locations on a map with an image of sniper rifle sights. “Don’t retreat,” said Palin, “reload.”

In recent elections, Giffords’ local opponent, Jesse Kelly, ran a campaign event at a shooting range. “Get on Target for Victory in November” he invited his supporters. “Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.”

Dangerous talk
Many now think that this sort of talk may have encouraged Giffords’ attacker. A local sheriff, Clarence Dupnik, spoke of “vitriol… inflaming the American public.” “That may be free speech – but there are consequences.”

Politicians, they argue, have a responsibility to avoid whipping up frenzies of popular feeling, which can break out into violence.

But when crucial political decisions are being made, say opponents, it’s important to have a robust debate. And anyway, it can’t be right to blame politicians and journalists for the actions of one deranged man.

You Decide

  1. Can dangerous language influence people to commit crimes?
  2. Why do you think people living in the same country could disagree so much about so many questions? Where do you think these different opinions come from?

Activities

  1. Write a campaign advert for an imaginary politician, being as hostile as possible to their opponent. Can you think of ways to be very “vitriolic” without directly calling for violence?
  2. Watch the militia video in “Become an expert”. From further research, can you find out what motivates “militiamen” like this one? Why doesn’t this sort of thing exist in the UK?

Some People Say...

“If Gabrielle Giffords dies, American democracy could be the next victim.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Who is Gabrielle Giffords?
She’s an American congresswoman for the southern state of Arizona (a bit like being an MP in the UK). She’s a member of President Obama’s Democratic party and was seen as a rising political star.
And who was the killer?
Jared Loughner, a loner who had been rejected by the army. He is thought to have extreme political views.
How did he do it?
He just walked up with a gun and shot her. Guns are legal in the US, and many people own at least one.
The Democratic party?
The Democrats are one of two political parties in the USA. The Democrats are generally “left wing”, and often support things like more laws, or higher taxes. They won the presidential elections, which means that their leader, Barack Obama, is now president.
What about their opponents?
Members of the opposing party are called Republicans. They are more “right wing” and tend to support fewer laws and lower taxes.
How do the parties get along?
Very badly. They disagree violently about many important questions. There are very few issues on which both parties will cooperate.

Subjects

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