The founders considered these two rights so important that they made them the first and second amendments to the Constitution. And the country has been fighting over how broadly these rights should extend ever since.
In this case, the only thing illegal that happened was the actual shootings.
Jared Loughner, the suspected gunman, bought his 9 mm semiautomatic Glock pistol legally.
Sarah Palin, who targeted Giffords’ district with crosshairs and admonished constituents, “Don’t retreat, reload,” was exercising constitutionally protected free speech.
Sharron Angle, the former Senate candidate from Nevada who threatened “Second Amendment remedies” if government was not brought under control, also was within her rights to utter nonsense.
In the days following the shooting, both Palin and Angle have denied culpability in promoting violence.
But the tragedy in Tucson makes clear that legal and right are not equivalent.
It was wrong for Jared Loughner, indisputably a mentally disturbed young man, to be able to buy a gun with no license, no waiting period and no background check. Moreover, no private citizen should be able to buy an extended cartridge capable of delivering 33 doses of human death in a matter of seconds.
It was wrong for Palin and Angle to use violence-inspiring language in the interest of keeping their faces on television. Whether or not their words even penetrated Loughner’s self-absorbed derangement, Palin, Angle and their ilk promote persuasion by force.
When campaigning, they talked as if they were eager to change the country’s politics at gunpoint. Now, confronted with the consequences of their words taken literally, they want to deny their responsibility.
Arguments go round and round about what should be legal and what should be outlawed. Such arguments would put the onus of ensuring appropriate behavior on the legal system, on the courts and legislatures, when the responsibility belongs with the individuals engaging in, as Palin said Wednesday, “reprehensible” acts.
Neither the First nor the Second Amendment is at fault for the shootings in Tucson. Irresponsible behavior, and by more people than just Jared Loughner, allowed this tragedy to happen.