The tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona over the weekend, which left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in a coma and six others dead, has been universally condemned both by Democrats and Republicans, as you would expect in any civilized society where violence and assassination with semi-automatic weaponry are considered inappropriate responses to political differences. But while even Sarah Palin -- a forceful opponent of Giffords who once published an infographic targeting Giffords
through gun sights -- was publicly calling for "peace and justice," at least one member of the retail comics community had a different message: "1 down, 534 to go
The "1" is Gabrielle Giffords, and the "534" are the remaining members of Congress -- both Democrat and Republican -- who have not yet been shot in the head. The retailer who posted this was Travis Corcoran, the president of Heavy Ink
, an online comic book retailer based in Arlington, Massachusetts.
In a post on his blog, Corcoran continued to comment on the shooting by taking the bold stance that while you are in the process of assassinating those 534 political leaders, it is important to aim very carefully so that you do not kill random people around them, as that would be wrong.
It is absolutely, absolutely unacceptable to shoot "indiscriminately".
Target only politicians and their staff, and leave regular citizens alone.
The response to early reports on the story by sites like Bleeding Cool was unsurprisingly outraged, with several notable creators publicly repudiating both Corcoran and Heavy Ink, including Gail Simone, Paul Cornell, and Nick Spencer.
While Simone requested that Corcoran "grow a soul," Cornell asked readers not to buy his books from the retailer, and Spencer specifically requested that Corcoran stop stocking his books in a series of tweets at the retailer detailed by Robot 6:
I'd like to ask that you... @ & your store @ stop carrying my creator-owned work. I respect your right to an opinion, but am not personally comfortable doing business with someone who advocates violence against people they disagree with. I certainly have no power to speak for my publishers and employers, but as an individual creator, I hope you'll respect this request.
Free speech is an often difficult thing to defend when we are asked to extend that protection to ideas that are fundamentally repugnant to our values, an issue that many people are currently struggling with in regards to the Westboro Baptist Church. Perhaps not so coincidentally, the Westboro Baptist Church is now planning to picket the funerals of the people who died in the Tucson shooting, including the funeral of a 9-year-old girl.
Although in fairness, the Westboro Baptist Church only believes in celebrating "God's vengeance" -- such as the deaths of soldiers or the mass murder of civilians -- after the fact, but do not advocate future acts of violence, which actually puts them a step below Corcoran on the scale of personal irresponsibility. And if you ever reach a point in your life where you realize that the Westboro Baptist Church is taking a more sensitive and balanced view of a political issue than you are, it's probably time for some serious self-examination.
While it's worth noting that certain speech that incites violence is not protected under the First Amendment, Spencer's response is a good example of the best way to react when we are faced with ideas so hateful that some part of us wishes we could silence them. In a free society, we don't have to agree with ideas we find offensive, but we are required to tolerate them, much as we would require that our own opinions be tolerated by those who might find them equally offensive.
But while Corcoran may have the right to say what he wishes, we conversely have a right to express our own opinions about those ideas, which personally would be that they are callous, irresponsible, and worthy of harsh public censure. Though Corcoran might advocate violence as a way to respond to deep political differences, we fiercely disagree. We believe these sorts of conflicts should be settled through speech. And beyond condemning his words with our words, capitalism also grants us another form of language: We can speak with our dollars.
Comics readers have been asked many times to "vote with their wallets," and to subsidize the books, creators, or companies they care about through their purchasing decisions. Making informed choices about the products and organizations we want to support is an important part of how we contribute to the world and to our society. If you, like Spencer, don't want anything to do with a retailer who would applaud and advocate cold-blooded murder, you certainly don't have to. At the end of the day, money talks, and the messages you send with your money are yours to send.