As lawmakers commemorated the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's "City Upon a Hill" speech, the nation is once again struggling to understand a tragedy perpetrated at the intersection of public service and extremism.


As lawmakers commemorated the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's "City Upon a Hill" speech, the nation is once again struggling to understand a tragedy perpetrated at the intersection of public service and extremism.

The shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has rightly caused us to question all of the circumstances that may have led her accused assailant to unload 31 bullets from his semi-automatic Glock 19 into a crowd gathered at a Tucson, Ariz., supermarket, killing six and wounding 13, including Giffords, who was shot through the brain.

Some people point to the increasingly vitriolic tone of politics as feeding the actions of 22-year-old Jared Loughner, who has been charged in this crime.

Some people, noting a pattern of bizarre behavior in Loughner's life, look for connections to how we treat those with mental health issues.

Others see it as yet another indication of the need for stricter gun control.

It's a natural reaction to a tragedy that defies explanation.

So far, our nation's leaders have set the appropriate tone, presenting a unified front to what has been described as an assault on democracy.

President Obama declared a national moment of silence recently.
House Speaker John Boehner suspended work on the most divisive issues in Congress and noted that an attack on one member is an attack on all.

Such alliances have unfortunately proven to be short lived, most notably in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Yet, beyond the inevitable return to partisan politics, what will be particularly difficult in the coming weeks is avoiding the temptation to sacrifice liberties in a futile attempt to guarantee security.

There's also the risk that building more walls between people and their government will only reinforce extremists' contention that their representatives have become disconnected from the people they govern.

Rep. Stephen Lynch of South Boston this week reflected on the importance of meeting face-to-face with constituents to know what they are thinking, and he noted that losing that connection would be unacceptable.

Outgoing 10th District Rep. William Delahunt, who served with Giffords on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Sunday this is a moment to "pause and reflect on what our real values are."

He's right.
There's much to be learned before we can react in a way that addresses one problem without creating new ones.