“Vitriolic statements made night and day on radio and TV about [Rep. Gifford’s] support of health care…” are the sparks that inflamed Jared Loughner into committing mass murder. Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik admits he has no evidence for a belief he is nevertheless proselytizing far and wide. Elsewhere on cable news today one finds rote calls for stricter gun control laws, as if sentient and malignant firearms were collectively to blame for our latest national tragedy. But what about the perpetrator himself: What do we know about Jared Loughner's behavior and his community's response?
Loughner gave every sign of suffering from a serious mental illness that evolved over a great many months. Unfortunately, as with Virginia Tech shooter Sheng-Hui Cho, clear behavioral warnings were ignored or ineffectually managed--casualties of political correctness and absurdly hermetic federal privacy regulations.
For example, the Washington Post presents a series of emails sent last summer by a Loughner classmate at Pima Community College
From June 14: "We have a mentally unstable person in the class that scares the living crap out of me. He is one of those whose picture you see on the news, after he has come into class with an automatic weapon. Everyone interviewed would say, Yeah, he was in my math class and he was really weird. I sit by the door with my purse handy. If you see it on the news one night, know that I got out fast..."
Loughner’s behavior was so bizarre that college instructor Ben McGahee insisted on his removal from class. On Fox News this evening McGahee reported that Loughner spent most lectures red-faced and visibly shaking, and answered one math quiz with a disturbing reference to “mayhemfest.” Despite McGahee’s concerns, political correctness kept Loughner in his seat disrupting class for a full month. Eventually, Pima College administrators suspended Loughner and conditioned return to college on a psychiatric clearance demonstrating that he was not a threat to himself or others. Despite this extraordinary level of concern, nothing further was done to help Loughner or protect the public. As far as we know, Jared Loughner never received any psychiatric attention.
Loughner clearly is suffering from a profound and progressive psychosis. One manifestation of this sort of mental illness is a loss of self-awareness necessitating compulsory diagnosis and treatment. Drug therapy can be surprisingly effective, but somebody first has to step up to do the compelling, and our usually compassionate society has lost its way by failing to implement an appropriate mental health care system.
Consider: Many responsible people worried enough about Jared Loughner's potentially dangerous behavior to suspend him from college and urge a mental health evaluation. Yet no other action was taken--perhaps none could be taken-- and months later Loughner embarked on a lethal rampage that left my beloved aunt and many others dead and a congresswoman and others maimed.
Jared Loughner should have been compelled to undergo a mental health evaluation followed by appropriate treatment. Had this been required by law yesterday’s tragedy would have been avoided. Let's prevent the next mass shooting, not by demonizing political speech we disagree with or further regulating inanimate objects, but by helping those mentally ill people, like Jared Loughner, who cannot help themselves. We need mental health reform and we need it now.