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Shootings prompt debate on tenor of political discourse

Flags fly at half-staff at the Washington Monument (with the U.S. Capitol in the background) to honor victims of the shooting.
Flags fly at half-staff at the Washington Monument (with the U.S. Capitol in the background) to honor victims of the shooting.
  • Shooting of Rep. Giffords and killing of six others has prompted debate
  • David Gergen: Signs that threats to public officials have been rising
  • David Frum: Reaffirm norms of political system, respect legitimacy of public officials
  • Donna Brazile: Pray for the victims -- and for civility

(CNN) -- In the wake of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the killing of six other people in Tucson, Arizona, Saturday, CNN Opinion contributors have offered a variety of perspectives.

Here are some of their views:

David Gergen: No time for finger pointing

Since Obama's inauguration, there have been many signs that threats to public officials have been rising. All of this should be the subject of renewed "soul-searching," as Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik called for in the midst of the carnage. So should the continued, easy access to guns in this country -- something we have fretted about for years but haven't resolved. How can it be that a young man with so many signs of derangement as (Jared) Loughner could purchase a very dangerous 9 mm Glock handgun less than a month ago -- and legally?

Dewey Cornell: Could rampage have been prevented?

Undoubtedly, an investigation will show multiple ways in which the Arizona shooting might have been prevented. It is reported that the suspect, Jared Loughner, had exhibited disturbed and frightening behavior while attending a community college. But colleges generally lack the resources or authority to address safety issues such as this one and often resort simply to suspending or expelling the student, transferring the problem to others.

In this case, college authorities reportedly instructed Loughner to obtain a mental health evaluation certifying that he was not a danger to himself or others before he could return to classes. This is a common strategy, and one that sadly reflects the fragmentation of efforts to help persons with mental health needs.

James Fox: Mass murder rare and unpreventable

Sheriff: Hard right 'fueling' the fire
Hart: 'Tone it down!'
Shooting heroes tell their stories
Loughner's classmates speak out

Hopefully, Saturday's tragic shooting will promote some changes for the better. But even though upgrading the level of political discourse, enhancing the scope and quality of mental health services, and changing gun laws (whether stricter or more permissive) may have some value in a general sense, these steps will likely not make a shred of difference in reducing the incidence of mass murder. Mass killers, though often delusional, are deliberate and determined. They seek revenge against specific individuals, or against society as a whole, in large part regardless of whatever social policies we put in place.

David Frum: Guard against risk of political killings

Deranged people do things for deranged reasons. The only protection from them -- and for them -- is an improved system of diagnosis and treatment for the mentally ill. It's the radical but nonderanged who demand a political response. In recent years, they have been hearing the wrong thing. This terrible crime in Tucson summons us all to reaffirm the norms of our system -- and to reaffirm that as intensely as we contest our political opponents, we respect our opponents' legitimacy and we honor their humanity.

Gloria Borger: A real test for our political leaders

Meantime, the jockeying begins for the moral high ground, and it's ridiculous. That's because no one has it. Not those who decry infantile entreaties such as "Don't retreat, reload." Or those who blame the movies or TV and talk radio chatter or nasty campaigns. It's just not that easy. As Gabrielle Giffords herself wrote a few days ago in an email to Trey Grayson, the Republican newly appointed to run Harvard's Institute of Politics, "I think that we need to figure out how to tone our rhetoric and partisanship down." It's not just a good idea; it's a job description for anyone who aspires to lead.

Ruben Navarrette: Sheriff Dupnik is right about Arizona

The shooting comes in a state that has been malfunctioning for years. Just ask Arizona's large and embattled Latino population, which has had to fight off everything from attempts to do away with ethnic studies to a notorious immigration law that all but mandates racial profiling by local and state police. The next battle, expected to start in a few weeks, will be trying to stop state lawmakers from seeking to undermine the 14th Amendment by denying birth certificates to the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.

Brian Levin: Anger and politics a dangerous mix

It has been disturbing to watch recent incidents of vandalism, gunshots, threats and politically loaded rhetoric that can help create a charged atmosphere in which representatives may be viewed as appropriate targets for aggression and scapegoating -- particularly among those who are unstable and angry. Protection for members of Congress, and our democracy as a whole, must take into account the dangerous mix posed by omnipresent firearms, angry conspiracy-oriented political rhetoric and a surplus of distressed and isolated mentally disturbed individuals. The risk today to members of Congress is that they represent the most locally accessible branch of our national government.

Donna Brazile: Pray for Giffords -- and for civility

The assassin did not succeed in killing Gabriel Giffords. But, in the name of God, let us not allow him to succeed in destroying the hopes and futures of our children in the echoes of his intolerance. Soon, we will turn our attention to ending violence like this forever, but until then, please pray for the many victims of this weekend's massacre.

Meanwhile, let us pray that our political leaders restore respect and civility in their political discourse, and beseech them to forgo the temptation to turn our plea to shun rancor into rancor.

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