Crosshairs on Congress

-1 The big news of the weekend was the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and members of the public in a parking lot in Arizona. As a parent, I was particlarly upset by the death of a nine year old girl at the event. I'm not sure how a parent would ever recovered from such a tragedy.

My Twitterfeed, which has a distinct leftward tilt, directed much of their anger toward Palin and other tea party supporters that rely on gun-rhetoric. They said that this rhetoric was responsible for putting ideas in the head of an insane man. Others were upset about the ease of obtaining weapons in this country.

Laughner's problems were evident long before this parking lot shooting. He had attended a local college, where campus officials were forced to remove him from a class, because of his violent rants in a poetry class. Could the college have done more to notify local authorities about this man? Do we need better public mental health resources to identify and treat these personalities?

I'm not a fan of my local Congressman. His political priorities are very different from mine. I would actively support any worthy challenger in the next election. However, I'm about to call his office to offer my support. Our right to assemble is an essential part of our democracy, and one insane man did irreparable harm towards this right this weekend.

30 thoughts on “Crosshairs on Congress

  1. The college referred him for psych eval, he refused. His parents, apparently, supported his choice.
    He also failed a drug test when he tried to enlist in the army.
    The problem is in predicting whether or not an individual like this is a threat to others can be difficult until he actually does something.
    The thing that bothers me is that this wasn’t totally unpredictable. If it wasn’t him, it would have been someone else. There’s a history in this country of the type of rhetoric that Sarah Palin was using and cross hair graphics on people (like the one she used and the one tied in with the killing of doctors in women’s services) resulting in assassinations.
    It’s like saying that they aren’t to blame because they sent the invitation, but didn’t throw the party.

  2. This is very similar to the situation we had with the Virginia Tech shooter (everybody knows he’s crazy), except this is even more pronounced. Classmates and teachers of Loughner were really frightened of him (literally from day one), and it’s just their good luck that he didn’t do his thing on campus.
    Although Loughner was a high school drop-out, he seems to have had certain intellectual pretensions. He was a book festival volunteer and complained about the illiteracy of people around him. However, as other people have pointed out, his favorite book list screams “summer reading assignment.” I was surprised not to see Catcher in the Rye on the list, myself, as was a Salon writer. Stacy McCain points out some other interesting omissions on his list.
    http://theothermccain.com/2011/01/08/arizona-shooter-seems-to-be-someone-desperately-needing-mental-health-care/
    “His own list of favorite reading seemed to be heavy on childhood fables – The Wizard of Oz, Gulliver’s Travels, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, to name a few – but also politically themed fiction including George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Ayn Rand’s We the Living. So far as political non-fiction was concerned, Loughner’s favorites included Hitler’s Mein Kampf and the Communist Manifesto. Ask yourself: What’s missing from that list? And the telling answer is: History, biography, political science, economics, current events — the kind of books that someone who is really into politics would read.”
    I note that none of those supposed favorite books left any trace on Loughner’s writing or video messages. I’m reminded of some dialogue in A Fish Called Wanda. Otto (a Nietzsche-reading moron): Apes don’t read philosophy. Wanda. Yes they do, Otto. They just don’t understand it.
    Going out on a limb here, the reason Loughner shot Gifford may be simply that she is an attractive woman who didn’t give him what he considered proper attention (he had previously been irritated by her non-response to a nonsensical question he posed at a public meeting).
    Frum (not usually a favorite) goes there and mentions that pot actually isn’t all that harmless. He has been ridiculed for that post, but I think there’s something to it. Take schizophrenia, add a drug that causes paranoia, and you’ve got a problem. Any thoughts, MH?
    http://www.frumforum.com/did-pot-trigger-giffords-shooting
    We still have yet to hear much about his family or any history of mental health treatment. It’s not clear yet if anybody tried to do anything for him.

  3. Take schizophrenia, add a drug that causes paranoia, and you’ve got a problem. Any thoughts, MH?
    The last I saw that research was ten years ago. Pot and schizophrenia certainly don’t mix, but it is probably the case that the schizophrenia leads to the pot instead of vice versa. There were some indications that heavy, long term use could cause problems in those with a vulnerability. Just to be safe, never share your pot with people with schizophrenia. At the very least, it could certainly make a psychotic episode worse.

  4. “There’s a history in this country of the type of rhetoric that Sarah Palin was using and cross hair graphics on people (like the one she used and the one tied in with the killing of doctors in women’s services) resulting in assassinations.”
    1. Loughner has been described by friends as a lefty. He seems to be a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. (However, to be fair, conspiracy theories are like Doritos–you can’t stop at just one. Loughner also enjoyed monetary conspiracies, which is more traditionally right-wing. Crazy tends to be politically eclectic.)
    2. Based on his papers, he’s been obsessed with Gifford since at least 2007.
    3. No one has yet demonstrated that Loughner ever laid eyes on the Palin target graphic.
    4. I think it has been well-documented that that sort of graphic is common in the political world. Patterico has a round-up of bullseye graphics being used on lefty websites to target particular geographic areas.
    http://patterico.com/2011/01/09/left-and-media-but-i-repeat-myself-in-a-fact-free-frenzy-to-blame-palin-for-giffords-shooting/
    As Althouse argues, our political language is saturated with metaphors of violence: campaign, target, attack, war room, bombshell, demolish, obliterate:
    http://althouse.blogspot.com/2011/01/our-spirited-political-discourse.html#more
    5. Gifford was under fire from the left. In 2008, Kos listed her as a blue dog who “sold out the Constitution last week.”
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2008/6/25/1204/74882/511/541568

  5. What’s with the need to assign blame or find a greater cause with these shootings? This reminds me of the judge whose husband and mother were shot a few years ago in Chicago. There was a period of a day or two when it seemed there might be a white-supremacist connection; during that period the story saturated the news. Then once it turned out to just be a nut-case who disliked her personally all the news outlets went totally silent.
    FWIW the impact on the judge herself was unchanged – husband dead, mother dead, home violated. Just as the impact on Giffords does not change whether the kid was “inspired by hate speech” on either side of the spectrum. It’s the REST OF US who feel the need to make it seem controllable by defining a broader pattern and somehow taking action.
    I will admit that the level of vitriol in politics right now is absolutely stomach-churning, and I would love to see that change, but IMHO that’s a separate issue.

  6. Our right to assemble is an essential part of our democracy, and one insane man did irreparable harm towards this right this weekend.
    Very well said, Laura. The worst thing that could come out of this–and unfortunately, a not entirely unlikely thing–is that paranoia and security get ramped up even further, making it that much harder to citizens to meet and interact with their elected representatives.
    What’s with the need to assign blame or find a greater cause with these shootings?
    For myself, Jen, I suppose it was the fact that my beliefs and worries–and specifically, my frustration at what strikes me as rampaging incivility and idiocy amongst certain political personalities on the right–gave me a ready-made narrative for assign blame for the shooting. I jumped right in and did so, and that was wrong, ranting on my blog and on Facebook. In a very small and insigificant way, I became part of the very thing–the hysterical finger-pointing and rush to judgment–that was really responsible for my feelings and fears in the first place. I would love to say that it was just “human nature,” but that doesn’t account for the thousands of people who didn’t jump in and assign blame. Fact is, however defensible my worries, when I heard about the tragedy I turned them into a blame-game, and I’m sorry for that.

  7. I think that violent rhetoric incites the mentally ill (we should track down what people said about the Fort Hood killer, who I also believe to mentally ill, too). I also think that people always talk about how they were “frightened of the person from day one” once something like this happens. I think that the college appears to have done what they can and should do.
    I think the fact that violent rhetoric incites the mentally doesn’t mean that we can arrest people for engaging in that rhetoric. But, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t complain about it, dislike people for it, and complain about it. We can and should do that without drawing a direct line of blame between one and the other.
    What strikes me, and where I think the left should be complaining about the law in this case is the fact that a man who was already being cited by his school as needing a psychological evaluation in order to return to the classroom was allowed to purchase and carry a concealed weapon into a super market.
    (and, really, it doesn’t matter to me that Gifford appears to have been a fairly strong supporter of guns, if anyone is planning on pointing that out).

  8. where I think the left should be complaining about the law in this case is the fact that a man who was already being cited by his school as needing a psychological evaluation in order to return to the classroom was allowed to purchase and carry a concealed weapon into a super market.
    What law would have prevented that? He rejected the eval (never even got one) and was never diagnosed with anything, let alone an illness that would have prevented him from lawfully purchasing a gun. Are you advocating for taking away a person’s rights just because they’ve been accused by a layman of being scary?

  9. “Going out on a limb here, the reason Loughner shot Gifford may be simply that she is an attractive woman who didn’t give him what he considered proper attention (he had previously been irritated by her non-response to a nonsensical question he posed at a public meeting).”
    I’ve been thinking along slightly similar lines. I’ve been interested that he targeted a woman. On one hand, she represents everything he hates, government. On the other, she has a female body and thus is someone he’d consider vulnerable and weak. No wonder she was targeted.
    I feel not one iota of guilt for my condemnation of violent rhetoric by the right wing in light of this case. It’s disgusting and horrible, and the people who go around saying things like “Second Amendment remedies” and “watering the tree of liberty” and shit like that need to be called out on it.

  10. bj,
    There were contemporaneous emails from a Loughner classmate, saying how scary he was. It wasn’t just hindsight being 20/20.
    There’s a pretty good interview at Mother Jones here with someone who knew Loughner well:
    http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/01/jared-lee-loughner-friend-voicemail-phone-message?page=1
    Interestingly, the friend says he flipped out more after he stopped using pot and alcohol.
    “There was a long-standing obsession with Gifford.
    “Tierney, who’s also 22, recalls Loughner complaining about a Giffords event he attended during that period. He’s unsure whether it was the same one mentioned in the charges—Loughner “might have gone to some other rallies,” he says—but Tierney notes it was a significant moment for Loughner: “He told me that she opened up the floor for questions and he asked a question. The question was, ‘What is government if words have no meaning?'”
    “”He said, ‘Can you believe it, they wouldn’t answer my question.’ Ever since that, he thought she was fake, he had something against her.”
    Giffords’ answer, whatever it was, didn’t satisfy Loughner. “He said, ‘Can you believe it, they wouldn’t answer my question,’ and I told him, ‘Dude, no one’s going to answer that,'” Tierney recalls. “Ever since that, he thought she was fake, he had something against her.””
    There’s also a lot of stuff in the interview about how Loughner embraced his hallucinations.
    Tierney “also describes Loughner as being obsessed with “lucid dreaming”—that is, the idea that conscious dreams are an alternative reality that a person can inhabit and control—and says Loughner became “more interested in this world than our reality.””

  11. “Are you advocating for taking away a person’s rights just because they’ve been accused by a layman of being scary?”
    Sure, that would be OK with me. But then, I don’t think individuals should have a right to own a gun. And I certainly don’t think they have a right to carry concealed weapons into public places that I frequent. One is a should, since I think the law has been decided against me, absent a constitutional amendment. (though I would certainly support a repeal of the entire second amendment, though I don’t think it’s necessary in order to have a lot more regulation of guns than Arizona does).
    In fact, Arizona just changed its laws to allow carrying of concealed weapons without a permit in April, with the law going into effect in July.
    “If you want to carry concealed, and you have no criminal history, you are a good guy, you can do it,” bill sponsor Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, has said of his bill. “It’s a freedom that poses no threat
    Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/news/election/azelections/articles/2010/04/16/20100416arizona-concealed-weapons-bill16-ON.html#ixzz1Aep0JV00
    What I don’t get is the “you are a good guy.” Is the assumption that all people who don’t have a criminal history are good guys (well, at least good guys enough that it’s OK for them to own a gun)? Or is that an additional requirement?
    Should mentally ill people be allowed to purchase guns? I guess not, since federal regulation actually prohibits it. Compliance with the reporting, though, seems to be pretty weak: “But still, Arizona’s own estimate is that the state has 121,700 records of disqualifying mental illness that should go into the NICS database. From the beginning of 2008 to October 2010, however, it submitted only 4,465 records”

  12. It occurs to me that if we are willing to subject people to increased radiation and/or invasive patting down in the name of our security, why shouldn’t be allow guns to be regulated more? I mean, how different is it from denying even “good guys” guns in the name of keeping everyone safe from mentally ill people who might use guns to kill?

  13. “There were contemporaneous emails from a Loughner classmate, saying how scary he was. It wasn’t just hindsight being 20/20. ”
    Yeah, but how many emails are there describing scary men from classes where the men do not go on to be killers? I’m guessing a fair number.
    Once something terrible happens, everyone wants to believe that they could have predicted the particular individual’s behavior ahead of time, if they’d just been vigilant enough. But, I don’t think you can. I doubt that the information about Loughner would have been sufficient to require that he receive mental health treatment, or to jail him, though it was apparently enough to suspend him.
    I’d like to argue that the information should have been enough to prevent his ability to purchase a gun, and carry it concealed into public places. But, that’s ’cause *I* believe that the threshold to be permitted to own a gun should be lower than the threshold required to hold/arrest/jail an individual.
    I’m not willing to require that one has, for example, references attesting to your sanity in order to prevent you from being held in a mental institution against your will. But, I’d be willing to have that requirement for gun purchases. Lots of mentally ill people go around saying scary things. It’s when you put guns in their hands that they have the potential to become really dangerous.

  14. It occurs to me that if we are willing to subject people to increased radiation and/or invasive patting down in the name of our security, why shouldn’t be allow guns to be regulated more?
    If we’re not willing on the former, how does that affect the later.

  15. Scalzi is good:
    If your political messaging traffics in rhetoric heavy on gun imagery and revolution of the overthrow-y sort, then when someone shoots a congressperson who you opposed, then guess what: You get to spend some uncomfortable moments in the spotlight being asked if it’s not reasonable to suspect a connection between your rhetoric and the actions of a shooter targeting someone you’ve opposed. You also get to spend time being asked if, in fact, your rhetoric isn’t overblown, simplistic and on balance detrimental to the nation’s body politic. Querulous complaints about the unfairness of this can be reasonably overruled by others; the time to complain about your bed is before you make it.

  16. I doubt that the information about Loughner would have been sufficient to require that he receive mental health treatment, or to jail him, though it was apparently enough to suspend him.
    I don’t see that either. You have to make a threat or be unable to care for yourself. I’ve not seen anything like that.

  17. If we allow limits on our freedom to ensure security in some cases, we should allow it in others.
    In other news, I am finding my ability to be coherent is impaired by a bad sore throat and/or impending cold. I am sure it was that dance mom I saw Saturday afternoon who gleefully told me about how her family had just gotten over strep throat. Yeah right.

  18. If we allow limits on our freedom to ensure security in some cases, we should allow it in others.
    When “we” discuss limits to freedom, everybody is far more eager to yield on the rights that they cannot see themselves wanting to exercise.

  19. “I don’t see that either. You have to make a threat or be unable to care for yourself.”
    Rumor has it that Loughner was going around making a lot of threats. It will be interesting to see if that story pans out.

  20. “When “we” discuss limits to freedom, everybody is far more eager to yield on the rights that they cannot see themselves wanting to exercise. ”
    Or, alternatively, rights they think other people will have to yield (like only scanning brown-skinned people, or only asking those people to prove up their citizenship).
    Although I do certainly have no desire to own a gun, I see no reason why the rights I’ve already yielded to do one thing that I do want to do (drive and own a car, for an example where there seems to be little controversy) shouldn’t apply to the ownership and use of guns.

  21. “Rumor has it that Loughner was going around making a lot of threats. It will be interesting to see if that story pans out.”
    Seems like a good reason why he shouldn’t have been able to legally purchase a gun on November 30th, if they actually pan out.

  22. (drive and own a car, for an example where there seems to be little controversy)
    So, gun permits issued in one state should be valid in all 50 states.

  23. “So, gun permits issued in one state should be valid in all 50 states. ”
    I might be willing to live with that, but only if gun permits required at least the amount of information/regulation/and testing as driving. Sound good to you?
    However, I’m guessing that there’s no legal right to have your drivers’ license recognized in other states, but that states do it in order to gain reciprocity for their own citizens, no?

  24. I’m not a lawyer, but I’d bet that the Commerce Clause of the Constitution applies. Long-range trucking companies, transportation companies (bus, limo), and the tourist industry all need drivers’ licenses to be universal.

  25. It could sound good. There was a book I read years ago that argued for a nationally accepted license requiring significant testing. I can’t think of the guy’s name.

  26. “There was a book I read years ago that argued for a nationally accepted license requiring significant testing.”
    For guns?

  27. Yes. I did some googling. It was A Well Regulated Militia: The Battle over Gun Control by William Weir. It was mainly historical analysis, but he did have some prescriptive stuff.

  28. The taxi driver’s story (that the shooter went into the grocery store with him to break a twenty to a fourteen dollar fare) is the kind of detail that boosts the insanity angle. Someone with a better ability to perceive reality would have given a six dollar tip knowing they were unlikely to ever spend money again and that going inside the store for change was basically training witnesses to remember you.

  29. Well, I looked at the mug shot, and thought that the guy might have a brain tumor. It’s a crazy diagnosis, but I wanted to write it down so that I could say I told you so, if it turns out to be true.
    Why? apparent weight gain, compared to the previous picts, puffy face, eye imbalance (facial assymetry).

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