The Tucson Murder Rampage

As I write this, a week has passed since one Jared Lee Loughner attacked a “Congress On Your Corner” event hosted by Arizona District 8 Congressional Representative Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords with a Glock 19 semi-automatic handgun, equipped with an extended 33 round magazine. Loughner critically injured Giffords, who was presumed to be his main target, and killed a sitting federal judge, a 9-year-old girl, and 4 others, while wounding at least 4 more victims before he was wrestled to the ground as he attempted to reload (though, by all accounts, he had not fired all the bullets in his magazine). Unfortunately, these kinds of mass-killings are not all that uncommon in America, though I cannot recall one that has so thoroughly exorcised the ruling classes and their media apologists as this one, presumably because the target was a politician. In fact, the bodies of the victims had not even been removed from the Safeway parking lot before people were rushing to blame the violence on Sarah Palin and the “climate of hate” her political rhetoric supposedly created, despite a total lack of any evidence connecting the madman to Alaska’s former governor.

Not surprisingly, in this era where politicians “never let a good crisis go to waste,” a whole host of knee-jerk legislation has been proposed by Representatives and Senators, including everything from a roving 1000 foot “gun-free zone” around all federal officials, no matter where they go (which begs the question, how are we supposed to know? Are they going to roll out a smart phone app with a GPS enabled federal employee beacon? Wouldn’t that create a whole lot MORE security issues than it solves?), to arming every Congresscritter on Capitol Hill, to reinstating the Clinton era assault weapons ban or enacting additional gun control measures that go even further, and finally, going so far as to encase the entire floor of Congress in bullet-proof Plexiglas! All of these measures reveal the extent to which legislators are desperately afraid of the constituents they ostensibly serve, and just how limited their imaginations are beyond measures of command and control as a means to assuage their fears.

While it should be clear to any reasonable person that laws restricting the ownership or carrying of firearms are of no consequence to those hell-bent on causing carnage (after all, there is no legal means to engage in mass-murder, what difference does it make if there’s a waiting period for a handgun, or a limit on magazine capacity? A vehicle or home-made pipe-bomb would have been just as deadly in the hands of someone with nefarious intent), lawmakers have to appear as if they are “doing something” in response to the tragedy. It is likely that these initiatives will fail to pass, and I hope they do, but the presumption remains that the only recourse available to society is to pass more laws, as if the thousands and thousands already on the books are insufficient.

The sad truth is, in this situation there were actually dozens of opportunities to intervene, and in nearly every case, the buck was passed, and individuals directly involved with the shooter assumed that someone else, presumably the state, would handle the problem, yet even when the authorities got involved, in typical bureaucratic fashion, they allowed a deranged, deeply disturbed individual to simply fall through the cracks. There are even allegations, which cannot as yet be independently verified, that charges stemming from multiple death threats made by Loughner against Pima Community College staff were swept under the rug as a favor to his aunt, who is a Pima County employee in another department. 10,000 more laws could be passed in the wake of this horrific massacre, but they’ll never amount to anything more than further restriction on our liberty, unless people begin to take personal responsibility for addressing issues like this in their community head on, and seeing it through to the point that people like Jared Lee Loughner ultimately get the mental health services they need, long before they act out violently.

I live and work in Tucson, and I’ve been here for most of my life. One of my co-workers is friends with people who live on the Loughner’s street. I realize this is just hearsay, but from what I understand, this kid had been a major problem in the neighborhood for years, ever since his brain was damaged in an alcohol poisoning incident in 2007, when he was a high school student. Apparently, he would get on his bicycle and ride up and down the block screaming at the top of his lungs at all hours of the night. His parents were quoted in the media, asking “where did we fail?” but it seems clear to me that there was ample basis for neighbors, not to mention friends, school officials and even authorities to take it up with the family, and in fact, they did on several occasions, though with insufficient follow through (typically the very minimum the law required, and nothing more), so they had to know their son was extremely mentally unstable, a danger to himself and others.

It seems to me that a lack of community involvement, the isolation so common to suburban enclaves where families insulate themselves from those around them with distractions like television, video games and the internet, combined with the well ingrained propensity for people to defer to state authority (taught in public school and continually reinforced in the media) to handle any and every discomfiting situation they may encounter, is what made it possible for this family to ignore or discount their son’s increasingly bizarre behavior, as if he were somebody else’s problem. If those of us who advocate private, voluntary alternatives to coercive state authority are going to be successful in changing anything, we’re going to have to get involved in our communities, establishing mutual aide networks and resources for cooperative solutions. If the Loughner family were involved with the people their neighborhood, and they had a sense of responsibility and accountability to their community, as well as an understanding that support and assistance was available to them, they likely would not have been able to persist in their willful ignorance of Jared Lee’s dangerous insanity.

I believe the moral of this tragic story is that no amount of legislation will prevent the next mass-murder spree. Once their mental illness progresses to that point, there is virtually nothing that can deter the criminally insane from carrying out their murderous schemes. But if we engage our neighbors, and interact with others in our community, and take the responsibility to address any issues we have with them directly, and in a timely fashion, rather than assuming it is none of our business or that the authorities will handle it (because most of the time, they wont), we just might have a chance to avert disaster before it happens.


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