Speech police steady crosshairs on First Amendment after Ariz. shooting

During his national TV blitz, Sheriff Clarence Dupnik proclaimed that there’s “no doubt” in his mind that political rhetoric, vitriol, talk radio, Rush Limbaugh, and Sarah Palin had something to do with the shooting, again without evidence.

And, FBI Director Bob Mueller waxed philosophical a day after the shooting about the wide availability of speech on the Internet as a law-enforcement challenge.

“The ubiquitous nature of the Internet means not only threats (but also) other inciteful speech is much more available than it was 10-15 years ago,” he said.

There has been surprisingly little alarm from the civilian rhetoric police about actual federal officials and law-enforcement officers who sound pretty keen on limiting speech (with Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont as a notable exception). Thus far, they have been more than happy to let political speech be the hostage with a gun to its head in their cynical negotiations over what Sarah Palin is allowed to say.

It is not wise for a nation that prizes free speech to conflate political speech and violence. Even if there were evidence that a crime perpetrated by a clearly disturbed individual had been inspired by political speech, suggesting one’s peaceful fellow citizens are therefore guilty of abetting murder is not terribly good for public discourse.

In the absence of such evidence, it is the worst kind of rhetorical poison.

People who deplore the rhetoric of “Second-Amendment remedies” cannot solve the problem by seeking remedies to the First.