THE KIND OF THING OFFICIALS SHOULDN’T JOKE ABOUT…. Rep. Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican, told the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday that Gov. Pat Quinn’s (D) plan to raise taxes would be unacceptable. “I think the people of Illinois are ready to shoot anyone who is going to raise taxes by that degree,” Kirk said.

Now, I don’t imagine Kirk was being literal. It’s a figure of speech, not a sincere call for political violence. But given the recent gun tragedies, and the over-the-top nature of conservative Republican rhetoric of late, elected leaders probably shouldn’t make jokes about shooting governors over policy disputes.

I assumed reporters would ask Kirk about this and he’d walk it back, chalking it up to a macabre sense of humor. I assumed wrong.

Congressman Mark Kirk is standing by his earlier comments that Illinois residents “are ready to shoot anyone who is going to raise taxes” as much as Gov. Pat Quinn is proposing.

Kirk says the many people facing unemployment don’t need a tax increase. Quinn has proposed a graduated income tax increase to help fill an $11.5 billion deficit.

Remember, political reporters generally refer to Kirk, who has acknowledged his interest in running for governor, as a “moderate.”

As was the case with the Richard Poplawski shootings, disturbed people sometimes do horrible things, and it’s not fair to blame politics for their crimes. That said, political leaders in positions of influence and authority shouldn’t encourage them.

Mark Kirk didn’t call for violence, but he’s egging on those who might be thinking about it. And when given a chance to walk it back, Kirk refused.

Responsible leaders don’t behave this way. Decent leaders don’t behave this way

This isn’t a “watch what you say” moment; it’s simply a plea to turn down the temperature. These guys continue to push the envelope a little too much.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.