Editor: The Arizona debacle is a tragedy that touches all of us. A cross section of people engaged in a discussion of public affairs in a public space – the quintessential democratic experience – were shot down by a deranged young man whose anger was fueled by the hate-mongering rhetoric of the times, and who had easy access to a lethal weapon.

Is that what democracy is about? Is that what the Second Amendment had in mind? I don’t think so. We cannot bring back the dead but we can learn something from this tragedy.

The combination of elements – the deranged man, plus the vocabulary of violence used by political leaders and media people alike, plus the access of all to guns which in this case are “weapons of mass destruction” – is indeed a recipe for disaster.

We give lip service to national security, but we are a danger to ourselves if we do not accept the limits of our freedom. Those limits give true meaning to freedom because they permit us to enjoy our freedom without infringing on the freedoms of others.

Why is it that the right to bear arms is so sacred that even the potential for death by a deadly weapon in the hands of a deranged person is not obvious? Why is it that people like Jared Loughner, identified as unstable and hostile by neighbors, friends and teachers, can buy guns and ammunition with ease?

Civility in a pluralistic democratic society that prides itself on diversity, tolerance and opportunity is not a luxury – it is a necessity. The greatness of our nation is based on that diversity and our commitment to making it work. Making it work requires civility – respecting the rights of others.

If we continue to coarsen our behavior and our attitudes toward people we consider not like us, it will be the end of our greatness. The cost of such behavior, exemplified by the Arizona murders, should speak volumes to all of us.

Recipe for Disaster
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