When the news broke on Black Friday about the “active shooter,” I wondered whether he was a quasi-rational actor targeting Planned Parenthood or just another deranged man with a gun?

“I’ll bet he’s a white guy in his 50s,” I told my spouse, “someone with an angry history, failed relationships, no money, no friends and crazy thoughts running through his mind.”

I’ve known men like that, men that somehow resemble Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.” They’re obsessed by “strange, incomplete ideas,” convinced that the laws that bind us together in a civil society don’t apply to them. They’re people like Robert Durst, the centi-millionaire heir to a vast New York real estate fortune who apparently murdered three people during the course of 30 years, or the notorious Ted Bundy, or any of the thousands of killers who have taken the lives of innocents.

Robert Dear Jr. is no different from any of these self-appointed executioners, except that his rambling journey through life brought him to the doors of a Colorado Springs clinic.

We know what happened then. We don’t know the details. Was he inspired by the exaggerated anti-Planned Parenthood rhetoric of Republican presidential candidates? Did he think he was striking a blow against President Obama? Or was he demented and confused, tormented by regret and anger, trying to compensate for a misspent life by striking out?

“I think,” Citizens Project Executive Director Deb Walker said Tuesday morning, “that everybody has a responsibility to keep the conversation thoughtful.”

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Ours is a thoughtless, reactive time. Consider this headline from the U.S. edition of The Guardian: “Colorado Springs: a playground for pro-life, pro-gun evangelical Christians.”

Or consider this excerpt from an email sent on Monday by local Republican Party chair Jeff Hays: “… our grieving has been interrupted by Planned Parenthood and certain politicians who would exploit our tragedy to promote their agenda.”

Jeff, surely you realize Planned Parenthood was a victim here, not the perpetrator. And as for The Guardian — name one Colorado Springs pro-gun, pro-life evangelical Christian who countenanced, aided, instigated or approved this terrible crime. Gordon Klingenschmitt? He’s crazy, but not that crazy.

Yet anti-abortion folks and their largely Republican allies ought to acknowledge a simple fact: Words matter. Your reckless, stupid and deceptive claims concerning Planned Parenthood’s alleged sale of “baby body parts” may have played a part in this tragedy. Remorse and apologies are in order, not self-justifying denials. I know, you didn’t pull the trigger or wish for such an outcome, but so what? You’re complicit, so grow up and admit it.

Those who seek to incite others to violent action don’t mince words. When Henry II wanted to get rid of Thomas Becket, he made his intentions clear.

“What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household,” he asked his knights, “who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?” The knights gathered their weapons, rode to Canterbury, entered the Cathedral and murdered the archbishop.

“When human life is considered ‘cheap’ or easily expendable in one area, eventually nothing is held as sacred and all lives are in jeopardy.” 

– Joseph Cardinal Bernardin

We can’t change what happened, but we can turn down the angry rhetoric. This is a time to mourn the victims, support the survivors, and resolve to practice compassion, love and understanding. This isn’t a time for debates, demonizing or crass campaigning.

And here’s something that we can and should think about: Should Dear get the death penalty?

“When human life is considered ‘cheap’ or easily expendable in one area,” said the late Archbishop of Chicago, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, “eventually nothing is held as sacred and all lives are in jeopardy.”

Bernardin’s principle of “the seamless garment of life” commands us to value all life. Lay theologian Mike Leach explains.

“All life is sacred, from womb to tomb, in the unborn and the dying, in the murderer on death row and the mother in a coma, in the soldier in Afghanistan and the homeless family in Iraq, in the child abused by a pedophile and the pensioner who can’t afford a doctor, in the oil-poisoned Gulf and the coal mines of Pennsylvania…”

Cardinal Bernardin lived his creed. When diagnosed with metastasized pancreatic cancer, Bernardin saw it as a blessing. It would, he said, enable him to more effectively minister to Death Row inmates, since he himself was under a death sentence.

Few of us can have the extraordinary moral fiber of Cardinal Bernardin, but we can join him in calling for both justice and mercy.

The state is not God; it should not take away that which it cannot return.  


  1. When referring to opposing viewpoints you call the claims “reckless, stupid and deceptive.” Then you said Republicans and Pro-Life advocates are complicit in a mass murder. That is the opposite of tone-downed rhetoric. The title of your article implies that “everyone” should dial done, but the article itself implies that only those you disagree with have the responsibility to monitor what they say. If your unable to follow your own advice in the span of the few hundred words of your column, why should anyone take seriously what you have to say?

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