Over the years of writing these columns, I’ve received many e-mails from readers who are politically conservative and have referred to me as a “liberal,” and not exactly in the complimentary sense. (How did “liberal” become a dirty word? Among other things, it means “tolerant.”) On the other hand, I’ve gotten e-mails from readers on the left who think that I’ve “sold out.” That said, these should be my biggest problems.

This week I had planned to write about the NFL playoffs, which features two games tomorrow and two on Sunday. The matchups have the potential for thrilling football. My guess is that I will watch some games, but, after the senseless and tragic events in Arizona last Saturday, I have little enthusiasm for writing about sports, thrilling or otherwise.

Last Saturday, Jared Loughner, a 22-year-old man with a history of troubling behavior, attended a political rally in front of a Safeway Market at a Tucson shopping center. The event was hosted by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. But unfortunately for all of us, Loughner brought a Glock 9 mm semi-automatic pistol. (A Glock 9 mm was also wielded by the Virginia Tech killer in a spree that left 32 dead.)

Loughner’s gun included a magazine with 33 bullets. That’s not for self-defense, that’s for a massacre. This size clip was illegal until 2004, when the federal ban on assault weapons expired. In fact, Loughner was attempting to reload when Patricia Maisch, a petite 61-year-old, wrestled away his ammunition, undoubtedly saving countless other lives Seconds later, Loughner was tackled to the ground by Bill Badger, a 74-year-old retired Army colonel.

For whatever reason (Loughner was apparently upset with Gifford’s views on healthcare and immigration) he opened fire, wounding 14 and killing six. Among the dead was John Roll, a U.S. District judge who was 63, and Christina Taylor Green, a talented and precocious third grader with big dreams who was 9. Christina, who was born on Sept. 11, 2001, was buried yesterday.

When I look at Christina’s photo in the newspaper, I’m struck by how bright, pretty and mature she appeared. She had gone to the rally because she was recently elected to her school’s student council. She thought she might want to be a politician. That was Saturday. At school on Monday her chair was empty.

Uniquely Christina, she also wanted to be a baseball player, maybe the first woman in the major leagues. As the only girl on her Little League team, no one put it past her. Baseball was in her blood. She’s the granddaughter of Dallas Green, a former Philadelphia Phillies manager. Her father, John Green, is a scout for the Dodgers. Sadly, now they can only imagine the wonderful life she might have had. Too often the innocent die young.

Saturday morning, Green made his daughter breakfast, and kissed her goodbye as a neighbor took her to the rally to meet Giffords. Hours later, Green was at University Medical Center with his wife and son, as a doctor told them the girl he called “Princess” was dead. (The neighbor was shot four times and required surgery, but survived.)

Congresswoman Giffords received a bullet to the head. She’s in a Tucson hospital courageously hanging onto life with her husband, Mark Kelly, a NASA astronaut, by her side. Gabby, as friends call her (admired in Congress by members of both parties), has opened her eyes and moved her fingers.

This country has had a long love affair with guns and violence. And hate-filled political rhetoric that often spawns violence, is more prevalent than ever. During the 2010 election, many Tea Party websites had images of bulls’ eyes and crosshairs on their opponent’s faces. (It wasn’t funny then, it’s even less so now.)

Jesse Kelly, a 29-year-old Marine running against Giffords, invited residents to “remove her” by attending a fundraiser where they would shoot a fully-automatic M-16. He was supported by Americans for Legal Immigration, a group characterized by Sen. John McCain’s office as “white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and anti-Semites.” (What a lovely combination.)

But perhaps some good can come from this. As reported in the NY Times, even Roger Ailes, the president of Fox News, has embraced a more civil public discourse. “I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually.”

In a moving speech at the memorial on Wednesday, President Obama called for a democracy as good as Christina imagined it. “I believe we can be better. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us,” Obama said.

In the memory of little Christina and the others who perished, and for Congresswoman Giffords and all those who were wounded, and for the sake of our country, I pray he’s right.

Jack Neworth can be reached at jnsmdp@aol.com.

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