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What we know about Jared Loughner: Not much

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Jan. 10, 2011 at 7:42 pm with No Comments »
January 10, 2011 4:45 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Sometimes a deranged gunman is just a deranged gunman.

At this point, no one has a clue as to why a 22-year-old misfit with a Glock opened fire on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and a crowd of others in Tucson, killing six and nearly killing her.

We won’t have a clue until Jared Lee Loughner himself starts talking, and maybe not even then, given the odd workings of his disordered mind.

Was he triggered by the general “vitriol” in the air? Arizona’s bitter disputes over illegal immigration? The fact that Sarah Palin talked about reloading instead of retreating and once drew a cross-hairs on Giffords’ district during the last election?

Not a shred of evidence for any of that so far. You’d think the chattering classes would observe a decent interval after Saturday’s massacre
before turning it into political ammunition.

Was Loughner encouraged by lax firearms laws and the popularity of guns? It’s conceivable, to the extent that any unbalanced individual in America’s violence-ridden culture might be more inclined to gunplay. But again, no hard evidence in his particular case.

The fact that Arizona recently stopped requiring concealed weapons permits wouldn’t have made a lick of difference to a man determined to commit a far greater crime than hiding a gun on his person. And Loughner cleared the standard FBI background check when he bought his Glock.

One thing can be said with confidence: Loughner was a scary, angry young man, according to people who crossed paths with him at Pima Community College. He needed psychiatric intervention – intervention that might have flagged him in the FBI’s database and prevented him from buying a handgun.

The only intervention he got was getting kicked out of the college, which may have been one of the events that left him unhinged.

Loughner may yet turn out to be politically motivated, inspired by the tea party, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, the usual suspects. But like them or not, the loud right wing of the Republican Party does not advocate assassinating members of Congress or anyone else.

We’d love to see everyone lower the volume on the national shoutfest. If these killings help accomplish that, good. But if the occasional crackpot gets set off by political rantings, that probably has a lot more to do with the crackpot than the ranters.

The obvious parallel to Loughner is the equally angry and unbalanced Seung Hui Cho, who likewise scared people for months before massacring 32 people at Virginia Tech three years ago.

Unfortunately, America lets too many of its mentally disturbed citizens wander around untreated. Few of them commit murder – they’re far more likely to be victims than victimizers – but what happened Saturday is another illustration of the high price of saving money on care for the mentally ill.

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