While the political left has spent much of the past week using the tragedy in Tucson to attempt to damage their political rivals, and as the media focuses on Sarah Palin, the real question and message of the events of the past week are being missed.
Jared Lee Loughner is a disturbed young man. That much is quite obvious. Whether he is legally insane will be left up to the courts. But there is no question, now looking upon his life, that the warning signs were there.
We see this repeated, over and over again. Whether it be Columbine, the Virginia Tech Massacre, or Tucson, these people in danger of committing these atrocities are not as hidden as one might think.
Loughner was known to local police officials. School Administrators knew about his instability. Even the military, which rejected him, suspected something was not right. And that does not even include Loughner’s friends and family, who must of known much more than any public official could have.
And each of these entities failed to do anything; or maybe more important, were unable to.
Take Pima Community College, where Loughner studied. They had met with county police five times about his disturbances in class. Only after the fifth occurrence was he expelled.
Ben McGahee, Loughner’s Algebra teacher, knew the kid was unstable. “They just said, ‘Well, he hasn’t taken any action to hurt anyone. He hasn’t provoked anybody. He hasn’t brought any weapons to class.'”
Loughner “scares me a bit,” wrote one of the students in an e-mail quoted by the Post. “Until he does something bad, you can’t do anything about him,” she wrote in a later message. “Needless to say, I sit by the door.”
And yet, no one could do anything.
In hindsight, the events of last Saturday were like an oncoming train with Congresswoman Giffords and others sitting innocently on the tracks. Everyone that had the occasion to spend time with Loughner knew he was unstable…and could do nothing.
I believe in reasonable gun control. But, is there any gun control law proposed or opposed that would have stopped this tragedy? Possibly limiting accessability to high volume cartridges would have saved lives, but would not have saved Rep. Giffords; the first bullet wounded her. But sure, you can discuss that. The only law that may have helped is instant federal background checks; and in this case, even those would have failed. Loughner was not a convict, and was not on any mental instability list…and therefore, would have passed all background checks in the United States.
I am in favor of background checks, but there is a more fundamental issue at hand. Background checks are useless unless the database has information to base decisions on. In this case, Loughner was never reported to the database.
Those who confronted Loughner never made the next logical step, and force him to seek mental health help. Many, like the school and colleges associated with Loughner, were very likely scared of retribution, especially from lawsuits. They suggested mental care, but could do nothing more. It was easier to send him on his way than force his hand and make him seek some psychiatric help. As for the military, where Loughner was denied entry, it is uncertain whether they are even legally allowed to forward such material to the appropriate authorities. And as for the police, that is even more dubious. Why after so many incidents, did they not try to force him into the mental health system?
We need to be more open about these questions, and allow institutions to use more free will in determining when individuals need to seek mental health care. In turn, we need to protect those same people from lawsuits. There is nothing damaging in making an individual sit with a psychiatric health professional for a few hours, and determine whether the patient is stable, and worse, is a risk to others.
Until we come to face the reality that we do not intercede when necessary in these cases, we will continue to have incidents like Columbine, Virginia Tech and Tucson.