Now that Jared Lee Loughner’s bullets have stopped flying, the air is thick with new bullets in the form of accusations and denials, proposed legislative actions, and the pros and cons of the Second Amendment. But most of these rhetorical bullets are far off the mark.
There are many reasons to suspect that Loughner is severely mentally ill. And I should know, I’ve spent most of my life in close proximity to the severely mentally ill. Both my mother and grandmother were schizophrenic and my sister is severely bipolar. I suffer from bouts of clinical depression myself.
One of the things I’ve learned is that the mentally ill, particularly likely schizophrenics like Loughner, don’t live in the same dimension as you and I. They live in a dark mash-up of reality and hallucination that the initiated often have trouble grasping.
They can seem normal and rational one minute and the next arguing with a disembodied voice. They can lapse in an out of psychotic episodes separated by months or years or they can stay psychotic, as my grandmother did, nearly all their lives.
There are as many different presentations of mental illness as there are people who suffer from it. But, there’s one constant – trying to deal with the irrational through rational means is a long shot at best, and more often than not, doomed to failure.
Triggers Without Guns
The air’s already heavy with accusations that right-wing politicos fanned the flames of insanity. The Palinator says, ‘Gosh oh golly gee, I had no idea people would see that as a gun target. And, how did people jump to the conclusion that my statement about not retreating, but reloading is in any way violent?’
Well Sarah, they said so at the time – loudly – and you didn’t “explain” yourself until people died. Ditto Sharron Angle’s entreaty to take “Second Amendment” solutions if not getting her way. Both of these “explanations” are toilet paper-thin and should be used for exactly the same purpose.
However, claiming violent suggestions trigger violence is as specious as claiming that being gay makes you a pedophile. It’s almost impossible to tell if there is a trigger and what effect it has at all. It’s equally true it might have. In the end, it doesn’t matter. When the evil voices tell you to kill, you do and there is no rational explanation why.
That’s not to say the Palinistas were guiltless to throw “misunderstood” gun sights out there. The First Amendment guarantees that right, but the First Amendment doesn’t say word one about free speech being intelligent speech. At the very least, their actions lowered the national discourse by several notches.
As is often the case, the knee-jerk response to tragedies like this is to become a dynamo cranking out proposed laws guaranteed to stop the violence.
Legislation: Responding Rationally to the Irrational
Increase gun control to keep loony fingers off the trigger? Well, if a person hasn’t been diagnosed there is no way to tell if their finger is competent to grasp the trigger. And if they have, there’s no way to tell if the person’s demons are under control, especially when they can seem completely normal even while in a deep psychotic episode.
Besides, there are many more ways, other than guns, to kill. Some of them are even more efficient. You can bomb, stab, set on fire, or bludgeon your victims with exceptionally large heads of cabbage. If the voices say kill, the mentally ill kill – by any means necessary. Besides, you can’t control the sale of cabbages.
And for the drive all decisions to the state level crowd, no control works if all states have different rules. Otherwise, a gun bought on one side of a lenient state boundary will kill the same on the other.
It’s a uniquely American trait to pay scant attention to violence until the right someone gets killed. If this hadn’t involved a sitting member of Congress, the national anguish wouldn’t be so deep nor last so long.
There are gang shootings that rival this one’s brutality and death toll, yet we don’t get in such a tizzy over them. How is this instance any different from a dangerously disgruntled right-to-lifer picking up a gun or bomb to carry out an assassination? What about Timothy McVey or a Kabul suicide bomber or the Va. Tech shooter? What about someone who carries a gun to a political event to “exercise their Second amendment rights” only to get into a one-sided duel with an overly agitated opponent in the crowd?
If the NRA is right about anything it really is that guns don’t kill people, people kill people…and there are a lot stupid, clumsy, and insane people out there. People I’d prefer not lug their guns everywhere for when they decide to “protect” themselves from an overly righteous Obama socialist.
There are dozens of rational responses we could take to keep this from happening again because most of us are sane and rational – if not a little overheated. Unfortunately, most would have about as much effect as prostate and colorectal exams for airplane passengers or tapping every phone on the planet to chase down a nut who lives in a cave and makes bad videos. It behooves us to choose wisely because the cure may be worse than the disease.
You can only control those things that are within your control. A person who literally hears the voice of the devil isn’t going to bend to your control. That’s not because they are unwilling or inherently bad people. It’s because they can’t.
And there lies the problem.