White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs sparred with a Russian reporter on Thursday over whether the Tucson shooting spree that wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 13 others and killed six was a result of the freedoms enjoyed in the United States.
Andrei Sitov, a correspondent for Russia's official news agency ITAR-TASS, offered his condolences to "all Americans" and the victims at the start of his question during a briefing at the White House just hours after President Obama returned from a memorial service in Tucson.
Sitov said the slaughter, which took place in a supermarket parking lot while Giffords was holding a "Congress on your Corner" event, "does not seem all that incomprehensible, at least from the outside. It's the reverse side of freedom. Unless you want restrictions, unless you want a bigger role for the government."
With that, Gibbs recounted what Obama said Wednesday night at the memorial at the University of Arizona -- the shooter's motivation may never be known.
"But I think it's important to understand that, as I said earlier, the event that was happening that day was the exercise of some very important, very foundational freedoms to this country: the freedom of speech; the freedom to assemble; the freedom to petition your government; democracy or a form of self-government that is of, by and for the people...all very quintessential American values that have been on display along with the tremendous courage and resilience of those in that community and throughout this country that have had to deal with this tragedy," Gibbs said.
Sitov pressed on, asking, "This is America, the democracy, the freedom of speech, the freedom of assembly, the freedom to petition your government. And many people outside would also say -- and the quote, unquote "freedom" of a deranged mind to react in a violent way is also American. How do you respond to that?"
Gibbs strongly protested that assertion.
"No, no, I would disagree vehemently with that. There are -- there is nothing in the values of our country, there's nothing on the many laws on our books that would provide for somebody to impugn and impede on the very freedoms that you began with by exercising the actions that that individual took on that day. That is not American.
"There are -- I think there's agreement on all sides of the political spectrum: Violence is never, ever acceptable. We had people that died. We had people whose lives will be changed forever because of the deranged actions of a madman. Those are not American. Those are not in keeping with the important bedrock values by which this country was founded and by which its citizens live each and every day of their lives in hopes of something better for those that are here."