Being the target of violence has always been a risk for those in public office in this country. The organization I head, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, is named after an individual, Jim Brady, who was shot and seriously injured nearly 30 years ago while serving as President Reagan's Press Secretary. During my first month as mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana, I started receiving death threats which my Police Department considered to be very credible. Too many public officials have been killed and injured in this country in my lifetime -- nearly all of them by guns.
I first met Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords shortly after her election in 2006. All who met her felt that she had the potential to go far in politics and government. Our hearts and prayers go out to her for a successful recovery, and to the families of the Federal Judge, the young child, the District Director for the Congresswoman and the others killed and injured at the Tuscon grocery store today.
While we are all still learning details about this shooting, and particularly the 22-year old responsible for this horrendous act, we should find it unacceptable that when Americans and our elected leaders are assembling in public places, their lives are at risk from gun violence.
We also are deeply concerned about the heated political rhetoric that escalates debates and controversies, and sometimes makes it seem as if violence is an acceptable response to honest disagreements. Shortly after President Obama took office, the head of the NRA crowed that "the guys with the guns make the rules;" participants in Congressional forums and Presidential events started carrying guns in public; and then, just last year a candidate for U.S. Senate said the citizens unhappy with elections results should consider exercising their "Second Amendment remedies" and Sarah Palin used gun "target" metaphors encouraging voters to defeat Rep. Giffords and others.
We, as Americans, can and should do more to restore civility to our political discourse. And we can and should do more to address the easy access to high-powered guns that make it too easy for dangerous and irresponsible people to disrupt and destroy the lives of innocent Americans, and political leaders who are simply trying to serve their communities and our country.