Missouri lawmakers call Arizona shooting a 'tragedy'

Monday, January 10, 2011 | 9:16 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Although halfway across the country, Missouri lawmakers say Saturday's shooting in Arizona hits close to home, sparking conversation over their security and the power of words to incite action.

The shooting, which occurred Saturday at a "Congress on Your Corner" event at a Tucson supermarket, killed six people and injured 14 more, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who remains in critical condition. 

Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis, expressed concern over incendiary images and words used in the media and said the negative rhetoric affects the way people behave. 

"I don't know what spurred this man to do such a thing, but we are going to have to be very careful about the messages and the images we put out in the press," Wright-Jones said. "It could take anyone on the fringes and force them into a situation like this that puts us all in danger."

Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said the shooting in Arizona is a "sad commentary" on the impact of language and how words are used. 

"It isn't about freedom of speech; it is about the words we choose that either incite or calm or make a point," Lampe said.

Specifically, Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said legislators and the media must watch the number and tone of personal attacks they make.

"We are all going to have to do a better job at that," Kehoe said.  

Lampe said a safe political arena calls for open, honest discussion that remains civil.

"Words matter. What we say to each other matters," she said.

Wright-Jones called the shooting a "tragedy of major proportion" and said she expects the shooting to inspire copycats. 

"I'm sure someone else has embraced that as the answer to his or her own set of issues," Wright-Jones said. "You just don't know who is in the crowd, and we have to be careful about the things we say."

Lampe said for legislators, the risk is part of the job. For her, she said, it is a risk worth taking to preserve democracy.

"You are either going to make yourself accessible or not," Lampe said. "The whole idea of America is that it is about citizen legislature and is about citizens contacting citizens."

Kehoe said legislators must continue to make plans to ensure security at public events.

"You are always trying to figure out how you are going to go out and meet with people, but you also make sure you are protecting your safety, the safety of your family and the other constituents around you," Kehoe said.

The topic of stricter gun laws has once again emerged among politicians after the Arizona shooting. Disagreement exists on the right to carry a concealed weapon, which is legal with a permit in Missouri.

Wright-Jones, who serves the "crime capital of the country," opposes the state's concealed-carry laws.

Kehoe, an advocate for Second Amendment rights, said he does not expect the shooting to affect concealed-carry laws in Missouri. However, he said heightened security will be a priority in upcoming weeks. 

"It is a conversation that I think needs to be had and that we've got to keep at the forefront and continue to talk about," Kehoe said.

Rep. John Cauthorn, R-Mexico, said the Second Amendment isn't the issue; personal responsibility is.

"I think people cause crimes," he said, "whether it be (with) a weapon or a vehicle or a glass bottle or a knife."

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