The Corner

Robust Political Debate and Passionate Protests Do Not Cause Murders — They Save Lives

The scene outside the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado Springs, November 27, 2105 (via ABC News)

It was horrifying to watch yet another mass shooting incident unfold in real-time, and the loss of life is heartbreaking. As with each incident, a furious debate is already underway regarding the causes of violence. In the Colorado Springs shooting, it appears that the likely killer was a toxic mix of angry loner, conspiracy theorist, and political eccentric, with a past that included allegations of domestic violence, cruelty to animals, and invasions of privacy. It doesn’t appear that he was part of any known activist organization or church. Reports paint a portrait of an evil man who might also be more than a little crazy (though I am loathe to describe killers as crazy without evidence they’re incapable of discerning right from wrong.)

Absent any ties to terrorist organizations or even any peaceful political movements, some in the pro-abortion Left are now tying the shooter’s actions to “hateful rhetoric” and “smear campaigns” against Planned Parenthood that allegedly creates an “environment” that “breeds acts of violence.” This is sheer nonsense. If angry political rhetoric bred violence, America would look something like Syria — awash in genocidal conflict. For sheer viciousness the robust debates between politicians and activists often pale in comparison to the “flame wars” on Twitter and Facebook, where arguments quickly become deeply personal. America’s political culture is thoughtful in parts, but it’s also a shouting culture, and anyone who’s looking for angry or extremist rhetoric can find it. It’s everywhere.

And yes, there are some small number of people who are already so vicious, so twisted, and so evil that they will seize on virtually anything to provide the pretext to kill. But the key word here is pretext. People kill because they are evil, not because a television broadcast was provocative, a website used an over-the-top headline, or because a YouTube made them mad. To clamp down on speech (or even self-censor) for fear of bitter hermits and angry lunatics is absurd.

It’s also ultimately self-destructive. Free speech saves lives. Violent civil strife often occurs when masses of people feel that the political system has utterly failed, that they have no hope of achieving political change absent recourse to violence. But a society that respects and cherishes free speech gives its citizens hope. It gives them a chance to build a movement, to topple existing political powers, and to make fundamental reforms. While civility has its place, it’s also true that angry speech can be the most potent — both persuasive and repulsive.

That’s precisely why our free speech battles tend to devolve into a shouting match over who’s truly entitled to their anger. So look for the Left’s message to the pro-life movement after Colorado Springs to be simple — shut up. Shut up about babies dying by the hundreds of thousands. Shut up about the abortion industry’s lies and deceptions. Only the pro-abortion movement is allowed to be angry now. 

But morally reasonable people can simultaneously condemn the murders at Colorado Springs and condemn the mass-scale violence against babies in the womb. Murder is a great evil — every murder — and it is right to speak out loudly and clearly so long as that horrific crime plagues this fallen world.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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