As a number of observers have already pointed out, this kind of violence is the predictable outcome of the sort of violent rhetoric we've been hearing for years from Republicans, Tea Partiers and others on the right. And of course there have been numerous instances of right-wing activists bringing guns to public events. As the Daily Beast notes:
At a town hall at another Safeway store in Arizona in August, Giffords called the police when an angry opponent of the legislation dropped a gun on the floor during the event. After the bill passed, Giffords was one of several Democratic members to have their office windows vandalized.
Giffords was also included on Sarah Palin's "target map," released in March of last year, which featured gun crosshairs superimposed over her target's districts on a United States map. The graphic was removed from Palin’s website today. Giffords' Republican opponent, Jesse Kelly, held a campaign event in which he invited supporters to shoot a machine gun. “Get on target for victory,” an ad for the event read.
Blogger Echidne of the snakes observes:
The Republican right has been using explicitly violent language for more than a year, encouraging people with guns to insert themselves into politics, in the case of Sharon Angle, explicitly advocating the use of guns when politics doesn't produce the results they want. There is nothing ambiguous about it, this is the open advocacy for assassination. This isn't a tragedy, there is nothing mysterious or unintentional about it. This will not be the last. Sarah Palin was the Republican Vice Presidential candidate, Sharon Angle was a Republican candidate for the Senate, many, official Republican candidates clearly advocated the use of guns in politics during the campaign. The killing has started, the time to let them off the hook for the results of their policy just ended, people are already dying.
I think Echidne is overstating the intention of those talking about guns. But at the same time I think any politician who claims to be "surprised" that someone with a gun took their talk about guns seriously is being disingenuous at best.
But we shouldn't just talk about the Republicans and Tea Partiers. While they may be the ones who are primarily to blame for introducing violence into mainstream political discourse, those fringe-dwelling conspiracy-mongers who talk in similar terms, and fill their readers' and listeners' head with apocalyptic nonsense, may have been the primary influence in this particular case.
This is one of the reasons that I'm troubled by the violent anti-women rhetoric I sometimes see in the mansophere. For some people, it's merely rhetoric. But the fact is that some people take this sort of rhetoric all too seriously -- as those who use this rhetoric know or should know. All those who've engaged in it have blood on their hands.
EDITED TO ADD: Below, a graphic (now taken down) from Sarah Palin's web site: