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No Easy Answers

In the wake of the Tucson shooting, we are being bombarded by solutions for how to prevent the next one. And it was a remarkable event -- some of the solutions are for things that I didn't even realize were problems.

We still don't know for certain precisely what set off the shooter (whose name I will not, and never will, mention). That he is profoundly mentally ill seems clear. That he had a history of fixating on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is undisputable. And that many of those who knew him -- even casually -- thought him potentially dangerous and feared him.

We all wish Saturday had never happened. We all want to find the "silver bullet" (if you'll pardon the violent metaphor) that will identify the factor or factors that set off the shooter, and help prevent another such atrocity.

But the measures being considered have some serious issues of their own. These "cures" very well might be worse than the "diseases" they purport to treat. One does not treat a hangnail by amputation.


We need to tone down powerful, inflammatory rhetoric. As someone who uses words a great deal, and is very careful about which words I use and in what context, I sometimes get frustrated with the "amateurs" who overuse the words of power. Usually, it's profanity that sets me off, but the "Nazi" and "socialist" and "communist" tags are also overused to the point of dilution.

The problem here is, we are catering to the lowest common denominator. "I need to watch what I say because some schizophrenic somewhere might find a message that could set him off." Nuts will ALWAYS find something to set them off; it's their nature. Charles Manson ordered the slaughter of innocents based on the Beatles' "White Album." Mark David Chapman read "Catcher In The Rye" and assassinated John Lennon. John Hinckley watched "Taxi Driver" and shot President Reagan to impress its star.

It's the same mentality that drives the push for censorship -- even self-censorship -- in books, music, television, movies, video games, and so many other things. "Think of the children." "What if a child were to see or hear this?" Because some people might not be able to handle certain ideas and concepts, we should all be protected from them. Because some of us are children -- or childish in some way -- we must all be treated as children.

We need to limit access to weapons, or types of weapons, or accessories for weapons.
The gunman in Tucson used a very popular model of handgun, and had several clips of very high capacity. The clips had fallen under the now-lapsed and laughably-named "assault weapons" law (more properly called the "Scary-Looking Guns Law," as very few of the attributes used as criteria actually had much to do with how well they aided the criminal use of the guns in question), which banned the manufacture of large-capacity magazines. Not the possession or sale of such, but merely the manufacture -- which means that the 31-round magazines the shooter used were, in all likelihood, perfectly legal. Some gun experts denounce such items, as they are less reliable (the springs break faster under the increased pressure of the extra rounds), they make the weapon heavier and more cumbersome, they throw off the balance of the weapon, and they make it much more difficult to conceal or carry comfortably. But they are perfectly legal to possess and sell, and their use is purely a matter of personal choice for each shooter.

So, should we pass a law that, in theory, would have kept the Tucson shooter from being able to obtain the gun, ammunition, and magazines he used? Should we loutlaw the gun he used, the magazines he used, restrict the ammunition he used? Should everyone be deprived of access to them, because he misused them? It's the "lowest common denominator" approach again; because one or some misuse something, we all must pay the price. The whole must be punished for the sins of the few.

Further, both approaches run afoul of the Constitution -- namely, the First and Second Amendments of the Bill of Rights. And while it might be fashionable to only cite Franklin's aphorism of "they who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety" when one's party is out of power (it was the watchphrase of the left during the Bush administration, but now they sneer at it; the right picked it apart then, but embraces it now), it's almost always worth keeping in mind.

We need to reconsider how we deal with those we suspect, or believe, to be suffering from mental illness. For years we've been told, over and over again, that we need to stop stigmatizing the mentally ill, that mental illness is just like any other type of illness. This was the mentality that led to the de-institutionalizing of the mentally ill in the 1980's -- a drive born of compassion and advances in the understanding of mental illness.

Which has left more and more people who probably could -- and should -- have benefited from institutionalization free to inflict their madness on the innocents of the world. The rights of the mentally ill -- to be free from involuntary confinement without a criminal conviction -- have been deemed superior to the rights of society to be free from the potential harm they might cause. And, in general, that is a good thing -- to deprive someone of their physical freedom is a tremendous step, especially in the name of what they might do. We should be tremendously leery of granting the government such power -- that was the rationalization the Soviet Union used for imprisoning so many of its political enemies (after all, only the crazy would reject the glorious benefits of Communism, right?), and they were hardly the only government that did such things.

We also run afoul of the principle of self-determinism and self-governance. Whenever we are insisting on coercing others to do things for their own benefit, we are insisting that we know what is better for them than they do themselves. We are trumping their rights to make their own choices -- which includes the right to make wrong choices. Of course, we also have an obligation to care for those who cannot care for themselves, which includes those so mentally disturbed that they genuinely cannot grasp their own best interests (or even reality) -- but where do we draw that line?

And more importantly, who decides when that line has been crossed?

We have no "absolute" rights. Every right is curtailed when it infringes on the rights of others. What we do is figure out just where the lines are drawn.

The Tucson case gives us a chance to look back in hindsight, and see where something could have been done to head off the shootings. There were several opportunities for someone -- very specific someones -- could have said or done something that would have gotten the shooter the help he needed, and spared us all the tragedy he inflicted on us.

And at each step, there would have been people who would have argued against the interventions, citing the shooter's rights and challenging the authority of those who would force their idea of "help" on to him against his will.

People of noble intent, of good will, with arguments based on sound principles and respect for the individual's rights.

In many cases, they would be right. In this case, they would have been tragically wrong.

Which we only know thanks to the miracle of hindsight.

There's no magical formula, no crystal ball that will let us distinguish the next psycho shooter from the guy who is just having a string of bad days, and will eventually snap himself out of it. There has to be some kind of compromise, some way of getting some control over the truly dangerous (to others, themselves, or both) without infringing on the rights of others.

And we certainly shouldn't compromise the rights of all others for the sake of catering to the tiny minority that can't take responsibility for themselves. I might not know what will work, but I'm absolutely certain that certain actions will make things worse.

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Comments (12)

Or we realize that in a fre... (Below threshold)
kevino:

Or we realize that in a free society, we must endure hideous actions by madmen. To put it simply, do we let the actions of one deranged individual dictate to us how our society should function?

There once was a time that liberals joined with libertarians to speak out against the worst aspects of the War on Terror - particularly the worst of the Patriot Act. The reason was simple: if give up our essential liberties and live in fear of terrorism, then the terrorists have one. Now that they stand to gain a political advantage, liberals have abandoned that idea.

Very good JT. But one item ... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

Very good JT. But one item in the "hindsight" should be added.

Just because a person's mother works for the County government does not allow the sheriff's department from doing their job. Had they, he would have developed a record and maybe not be able to purchase a gun. His father went chasing after him that morning because this killer had a black bag. Why would his dad think something bad? He knew also. So, we have a Sheriff who quickly distracted the narrative because at the end of this investigation there will probably be many instances this nutjob was confronted by law enforcement, but mom's connections helped it go away.

Another thing: How about we allow fines against people who blatantly spread false rumors and conjecture in relation to tragedy's? Then the person or person's maligned in the rumor can seek recourse.

The greatest tragedy of this whole ordeal was the political left leaning Sheriff starting a witch hunt to distract from his own culpability in this mess. Shame on him. And Shame on all the supportive leftist's who supported the narrative. ww

We don't need to tone do... (Below threshold)
jim m:

We don't need to tone down rhetoric we need to be a society that can distinguish between rhetoric and marching orders. The left's insane reaction tells me that their side cannot. In fact their increasing political violence tells me that they cannot. Responding to this with restrictions on the freedom of speech is fascist stupidity.

We do not need more laws that limit access to weapons we need to enforce the laws that we have. We have plenty of laws. We have laws that would have prevented Jared Loughner from possessing a weapon as he was mentally ill and a threat to others and himself. Passing another law is to ignore the fact that we have failed to implement the laws we have effectively. Passing the law is easy. Actually making that law work is the hard part. No one wants to do the hard part.

We do need to do something about how we identify the mentally ill and how we provide treatment for them. The problem with mental illness is that the patient is not going to necessarily recognize that he has a problem that needs treatment and in some cases will refuse treatment. We have allowed the leftist civil liberties lobby to put us in a position of allowing the mentally ill to determine whether or not they should accept treatment. The process to override their authority is too difficult so it almost never happens.

Jared Loughner needed a system that would ave forced appropriate treatment on him. Had one existed instead of murdering 6 people he would be finishing a college degree.

With liberals, "the lowest ... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

With liberals, "the lowest common denominator" is ALWAYS the solution.

RE: "With liberals, 'the lo... (Below threshold)
kevino:

RE: "With liberals, 'the lowest common denominator' is ALWAYS the solution."

Very true. It used to be that liberals treated adults as children, now they propose changing political discourse to consider the needs and motivations of the mentally ill.

I have been watching the le... (Below threshold)
Don L:

I have been watching the left, since the sixties when CBS would run its anti-gun propaganda. It is tiring, but they're relentless (those communists five-year plan mentality)I never mistake it for missing what's behind it: the forceful takeover of the nation. But for the guns, and the internet, the Alinskyites would have moved long before this.

"Just because a person's mo... (Below threshold)
retired military:

"Just because a person's mother works for the County government does not allow the sheriff's department from doing their job"

Hell the Holder justice dept is doing theirs. Napalitano isnt doing hers. The Obama administration blatantly allows the immigration laws to be walked all over. Local leaders of "sanctuary cities" flaunt the law. Liberals are fine with everyone following their conscience when it follows their agenda. Let a doctor not do an abortion due to their moral objections (and this is legal) and the left wants to hang them out to dry.

Actually the Sheriff, the P... (Below threshold)
gary gulrud:

Actually the Sheriff, the Pima community college, any subjects of his death threats could have petitioned Arizona to have Loughner psychiatrically evaluated. Its their law.

He might well have been put on medication and the Sheriff might well have recognized his danger on appearance at the meet and greet.

Not easy, but beats groping in the dark.

Gary, lots of questions. F... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

Gary, lots of questions. Few answers. And today the Sheriff's Office and the College are NOT releasing anything.

As for taking someone into custody for a 72 hour psych eval; good luck. Most of the times I did it, the person was kicked out the door right after I left. I'd be told "They're not mentally ill, their just anti-social." So what the hell was the guy in Tucson?

Seems the courts have erected so many "protections" that the entire legal system is tied up in knots.

We have to be very careful ... (Below threshold)
James H:

We have to be very careful with laws re: the mentally ill and involuntary commitment. It's worth noting that in a totalitarian society, calling somebody "mentally ill" is one of the primary excuses used to confine political dissidents.

Several things could certai... (Below threshold)
Paul Hooson:

Several things could certainly have helped here. Someone that has a drug related arrest could have been banned from making a gun purchase for at least five years(for minor offenses)or life(for serious ones) under Arizona law. The gun shop clerk also had an uneasy feel about Loughner, yet chose to sell to him regardless(for the sake of the almighty dollar).

I strongly invite the gun shop owner and clerks to grow a set of balls, and refuse to sell guns to some persons which they have a bad feel about. I refuse to sell alcohol or cigarettes to some folks I have a bad feel about, or who might appear to be intoxicated. If they want to argue or fight about it, my brother and I will quickly set them straight and restore order. We're responsible business owners with an obligation to our local community.

The Arizona gun shop owner and clerks also need to realize that there's such a thing as being responsible when you're in business. Especially so when they're selling Glock semi-automatic weapons to persons they believe are likely to commit a crime.

It's also important to note that Rep. Giffords is a gun owner and fully supports the right of law abiding citizens to own one. Arizona law needs to better keep those with drug arrests or mental health problems from gun purchases. Protecting the Second Amendment by keeping guns out of the hands of drug criminals or the mentally ill is vital.

"The gun shop clerk also ha... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

"The gun shop clerk also had an uneasy feel about Loughner"

Where'd you read that?




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