In the aftermath of the terrible shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and others at a constituent event in Tucson this weekend, there’s been a great deal of heated rhetoric about … well, heated rhetoric.

What do we actually know about whether incendiary political rhetoric can inspire violent acts?

Even before anything was known about the shooter, many people reacted to the news by arguing that whatever the motives of this particular shooter, the tone of our political discourse is at least partly to blame. Those making this argument cite the extreme and polarizing tone used by many politicians and media commentators; the especially troubling use of  the rhetoric of violence in some quarters; and the heated tone invoked to discuss certain topics that Rep. Giffords was prominently involved in, including immigration and health care reform.

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