Predictably, the killing rampage at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facility has prompted a political scrimmage of the usual sort.
From the pro-choice front, we hear that pro-lifers and Republican rhetoric made the killer do it. Or, at least, they created an environment in which a deranged person might become unhinged.
From the pro-life trenches, we hear, There they go again, blaming the messenger , apparently referring to a series of undercover videos in which Planned Parenthood employees, including doctors, casually discussed collecting and delivering "fetal tissue," a.k.a. intact organs from preterm babies, for medical research.
"No more baby parts," the alleged killer reportedly said upon his arrest after three people were fatally shot and nine others wounded.
Suspect Robert Lewis Dear Jr., 57, has been consistently described in the media and by others as "deranged," the basis of which is his appearance. Photos showed Dear appearing to be in a disheveled state, to put it kindly. Otherwise, derangement is the only plausible explanation to sane people. How else could a person do such a thing?
Meanwhile, the usual questions have kept us busy: Do we need more rational gun control? (Yes.) Are we doing enough about the mentally ill? (No.) Do we need to tame our rhetoric? (Tricky.)
Whose voices would we stifle? (I'm making a list.) And, how?
Mostly, we want to understand what happened so that we can prevent the next incident. But in a free country, can we ever fully protect ourselves from the murderous intent of the truly insane, the drug-addled or a rage that topples reason?
What is murder's tipping point?
While responsible writers and commentators have avoided making a cause-and-effect argument, a consensus has congealed around the idea that though the rhetoric didn't cause the action, it contributed to it, probably. Dear, in other words, either watched, read or heard about the videos in question, perhaps from Republican presidential candidates and, being deranged, simply went ballistic. Unforgettable was the description Carly Fiorina offered during a debate of a live fetus that, one might infer, was subsequently murdered for its innards.
The image she described exists, apparently, but it wasn't from any of Planned Parenthood's facilities.
The videos in question are certainly controversial and accomplished what they were intended to do make vividly real the sometimes brutal reality of abortion, though the vast majority of abortions are first-term. This is no consolation to people who morally object to terminating a pregnancy at any point in gestation, as we know from 40 years of divisive debate. To people who oppose abortion, exposing the casual harvesting of body parts was simply another layer of banality attached to the already horrific.
It isn't necessary to resort to hyperbole or inexactitude, as some have done, to bestir an ethical conundrum in many a moral mind. Even the liberally pro-choice Hillary Clinton described the videos as "disturbing" when she became aware of them and before she was schooled by her pro-choice supporters. Clinton did make an honorable recommendation to study fetal-tissue procurement from abortion across the board. This would eliminate some of the political jockeying and place the issue in the bioethical realm, where it belongs.
Meanwhile, as abhorrent as we find the shooter's actions, we should tread carefully in assigning broader blame. One man may have heard fiery rhetoric and decided to kill people, but 320 million other Americans went about their day as usual. The rationale we seek for mass killings may ultimately be elusive because a variety of variables are usually in play.
In time, perhaps the suspect will provide answers, which we can parse in search of helpful insights. So far, he's been unhelpful. Saying "no more baby parts" may suggest a motive, but it is also nonsensical. There will be more baby parts as long as there are abortions. By his comment alone, one suspects that Dear is mentally incompetent, drunk, on drugs, off his meds or all of the above.
Divining motivations, a provocative pastime to be sure, is probably best left to psychoanalysts and jurors as facts emerge. In the meantime, politicos and pundits would do well to resist the urge to contribute their own overheated rhetoric to the dynamic. Speech may be free, but it ain't cheap.