WASHINGTON — The wounding of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords follows a dramatic increase in threats against members of Congress over the past year.
In the first three months of 2010 alone, officials reported 42 threats to federal lawmakers, nearly three times the cases reported during the same three months a year earlier.
In March, someone either kicked in or shot out a window in Giffords' Tucson office just hours after the Arizona Democrat voted for an expansion in government-directed health care.
A day later, Giffords also was among 20 House Democratic supporters of the health care bill who were the subject of a posting on former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's Facebook page encouraging people to organize against their re-election. The posting featured a map of the United States, with the cross-hairs of a gun scope imposed over each of the 20 Democrats' districts, all won by the John McCain-Palin GOP presidential ticket in 2008.
In a March 25 interview with MSNBC after Palin's posting, Giffords said political leaders should be cautious about how they reach out to supporters. She said political leaders need to get together and say "look, we can't stand for this."
"We're on Sarah Palin's targeted list," she said at the time. "But the way she has it depicted she has the cross hairs of a gun site over our district."
She warned: "When people do that, they got to realize there are consequences to that action."
After news of Giffords' shooting, Palin offered the lawmaker and the other victims her condolences.
"On behalf of Todd and my family, we all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice," Palin wrote on her Facebook page Saturday.
Giffords beat a tea party favorite in November to win her third term in office.
In one of several YouTube videos, the accused gunman Jared Loughner, 22, of Tucson, complained about literacy rates in Giffords' congressional district and repeatedly complained about the government.
Unrest over the sweeping health care bill, now law, prompted a rash of threats and vandalism in the spring. Bricks were hurled through Democrats' windows, a propane line cut at the home of a congressman's brother and menacing phone messages left for lawmakers who supported the bill.
At the time, the FBI and Capitol Police briefed Democratic lawmakers on how to handle security threats. Normally only those in leadership positions have personal security guards.
After Saturday's shooting, U.S. Capitol Police sent messages to congressional offices advising lawmakers and their aides "to take reasonable and prudent precautions." Capitol Police, the FBI and the Pima County, Ariz., sheriff's office were investigating the shooting.