|NORPAC delegates met with Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords last spring during the group’s annual mission to Washington. From left are Shayna Schwarzberg, Giffords, Milton Erdfarb, Nathan Orgel, and Dr. Stanley Zimmerman. Liz Berry|
North Jersey political insiders joined people across the nation this week in lamenting Saturday’s deadly shooting in Arizona that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords fighting for her life. Some have added their voices to a widespread plea for a calming of political rhetoric that many have blamed for inflaming the alleged shooter.
“I believe that this tragedy may well cause people in Washington and in the media to take as great care with their choice of language as possible,” Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) told The Jewish Standard Monday, “without compromising anyone’s right to vigorously dissent or strongly argue against any policy.”
Many, particularly in the media, have put the spotlight on former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her Tea Party faction for heated political rhetoric that some theorize may have influenced the alleged shooter, Jared Loughner. During last year’s election campaign, Palin created a graphic of targets over districts the Tea Party would try to win, one of which was Giffords’. While many liberal pundits and bloggers have blamed Palin for influencing Loughner, Rothman urged patience while investigations into Loughner’s motives continue.
“Until all evidence comes in,” Rothman said, “it would be premature to come to any conclusions now other than this evil and deranged individual acted simply out of his own madness and personal demons.”
Still, Rothman said, last weekend’s events may cause people in Washington and the media to take greater care with their choice of language, although a balance must be struck to protect freedom of speech.
“We live in the greatest democracy in the history of the world,” he said, “and we cherish our freedom of speech and opportunity to criticize the government and our politicians, as well as debate our friends and family about all the issues of the day. We do so quite often and quite loudly and with great passion, but there is never an excuse for violence.”
Rothman in December ended his service on the House Science and Technology committee, where he had served on Giffords’ subcommittee on space and aeronautics. Rothman and Giffords spoke often about their shared Jewish heritage, their families, and Gifford’s West Orange-bred husband, astronaut Mark Kelly.
Giffords is “a fierce fighter,” Rothman said, for her constituents and for her principles. “Members of both sides of the aisle have great affection for her simply because of the kind of wonderful person she is,” he said.
Others outside of the Beltway took more critical stands against political mudslinging.
The rhetoric has “got to be toned down,” said Milton Edfarb, a resident of Highland Park and member of the Englewood-based pro-Israel political action committee NORPAC. Edfarb was one of several NORPAC members who met with Giffords during the group’s annual mission to Washington last spring.
“There seems to be too much vitriol being added to discussions,” he said. “We have to practice openness to people’s ideas and agree to disagree and do it in a polite manner.”
Divisive rhetoric is a problem in politics, said Harry Feder, another NORPAC member who spoke with Giffords several times during her recent campaign for re-election.
“When you get to Congress, people should be working together,” said the Riverdale, N.Y., resident.
Giffords was an “up and coming” member of Congress, said Feder, who called the shooting a tragedy for the Jewish community and for Tuscon.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) also lashed out against provocative language.
“America must not tolerate violence or inflammatory rhetoric that incites political violence,” Lautenberg said in a statement sent to the Standard.
The senator also announced Monday plans to introduce legislation with Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) to end the manufacture and sale of high-capacity ammunition feeding devices, such as the high-capacity 33-round magazine clip Loughner allegedly used in his Glock 19 pistol. The high-capacity magazine allowed him to fire 33 bullets without reloading.
“The only reason to have 33 bullets loaded in a handgun is to kill a lot of people very quickly. These high-capacity clips simply should not be on the market,” Lautenberg said in his statement. “Before 2004, these ammunition clips were banned, and they must be banned again. When the Senate returns to Washington, I will introduce legislation to prohibit this type of high-capacity clip.”
From 1994 to 2004, high-capacity ammunition magazines were illegal under the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. When the ban expired in 2004, Republican leaders in Congress pledged not to renew it, and high-capacity clips have been legal to manufacture and sell since then.
Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5) also lamented last weekend’s events.
“I was deeply saddened to hear of the tragic shooting in Arizona,” he said in a statement to the Standard. “I strongly condemn this deplorable act of violence. It has no place in our public discourse and it has no place in our society. My heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to Rep. Giffords, her family, her staff, and all the other victims and their families….”
Loughner headed to court earlier this week and while the investigation into his background continues, some were hopeful that out of tragedy can come something positive.
“I hope,” Edfarb said, “it gives people a chance to step back and say, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t say this.'”
Josh Lipowsky can be reached at Josh@Jewishmediagroup.com.