January 10, 2011
We at NETWORK were horrified by the news of the shootings in Tucson. Sister Simone Campbell, NETWORK’s Executive Director, immediately issued a statement in which she said, “All of us at NETWORK are praying for the recovery of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the other wounded victims. We also grieve for those who died and pray that their loved ones may be comforted. Violence such as this touches us all, and we must all take steps to keep it from happening again.”
In recent years, Americans have been forced to absorb the news of too many mass shootings. Each has been a tragedy, but the attempted assassination of Representative Giffords and wounding and murders of those around her have shocked people throughout the U.S. in a new, very profound way.
As we hold Representative Giffords and the other victims in prayer, we should also take a moment to reflect about where we are as a nation. Exactly one year ago, NETWORK published an issue of the Connection entitled “Civility and the Common Good .” It included an article  by former Republican Representative Jim Leach in which he addressed the increasingly rancorous discourse on Capitol Hill and throughout the country. He wrote that if we are to truly govern for the common good, we need “thoughtfulness and decency of expression in the public square.” As he noted, “Civilization requires civility. Words matter.”
Violence takes many forms, and it is time to pull back from the hyper-partisan, angry atmosphere in which people demonize those who disagree with them. Throughout our history, one of the strengths of our democracy has been the ability of Americans to “petition government” through public demonstrations and direct contact with elected officials. But many of us in Washington have noticed a more hostile tone in recent years. At demonstrations, violent anti-government images on too many signs have disturbed us, and angry rhetoric on the Hill has also increased. One need only read the online comments sections of reputable news media such as the Washington Post and New York Times to see how pervasive this trend has become across the U.S. Topics such as immigration and healthcare reform draw many comments that can only be considered hate speech. Meanwhile, public officials report receiving more and more death threats.
It is time to return to reasoned, respectful dialog about the important issues our nation faces. In light of this weekend’s shootings, two of those issues should be gun control and how we can do a better job of helping people with mental illness.
As we pray for the shooting victims from this weekend, let us also pray for a new spirit of civility, nonviolence and reason throughout our nation.