Conservative policies, not rhetoric, are responsible for the tragedy in Tucson

I posted much of this in a Pit threadabout Sarah Palin’s debated responsibility for Saturday’s shootings in Tucson. But with some prodding, have decided to start a new thread about the policies that may have been responsible for the tragedy. So here goes:

Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck et al are not responsible for Saturday’s actions because of cartoon crosshairs and over-the-top political rhetoric. They are responsible for this shooting, as is everyone else who prognosticates on Fox News or lobbies Congress or legislates this country in a direction where it’s easier to get a gun than it is to get treatment for mental health problems.

Should the rhetoric be toned down? Absolutely. Because it could still lead to a violent tragedy. But the rhetoric isn’t what set off Jared Loughner. His apparent mental illness did. Has he been diagnosed? No, and that’s the problem. It’s too hard to get access to mental health treatment in this country. While people were screaming about how public health care would set up death panels, it distracted us from the death panels with undiagnosed mental illness looming in the corner with glocks in their hands.

The argument that making guns more accessible to everyday Americans (and give them the right to carry those guns wherever they want), in order to stop crimes in progress, has also failed. Arizona has made it so that a gun-owner doesn’t need to even have a permit to carry a concealed weapon. And an individual with a documented history of recent mental instability was able to buy a gun, a 30-round clip and ammo. That shows a failure of right-wing gun laws on two parts: one, even when allowing people to own and carry guns relatively unfettered, no one stopped the crime And two, a man, who had absolutely no business owning the weaponry he did, had no apparent problem purchasing it.

The argument that we need to gut public health programs (specifically mental health programs) and continue to prevent mentally ill adults from being committed against their will has been exposed as a dangerous one. Dangerous to the individual and dangerous to the public.

Change involuntary commitment laws, fund public mental health programs, set up stricter gun control.

Finally, as somewhat of an aside, I think the right-wing would’ve been much better off had Jared Loughner been an angry Tea Partier acting out because of something Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck said. That would’ve meant the solution would be simple: Make appeals to stop the angry rhetoric, and stop giving Sarah Palin et al a pulpit to preach from.

But the fact that it was a mentally-ill man who received no treatment, and the fact that this happened in a state that makes it pretty easy to buy and carry a gun in public, means that we can’t just have a discussion about rhetoric. We need to actually have a tough policy discussion, and from Bricker’s earlier apparent discomfort with that in the Pit thread I linked to, it’s obvious that some of these policy discussions will mean changing things that conservatives won’t like.

Funny, huh? Probably right after this happened on Saturday, both sides were praying “Don’t let this be one of our guys.” But had it been just an angry conservative, it probably would’ve meant less long-term questioning of conservatives and their policies. And it would’ve actually allowed the GOP to swing back away from the fringe.

Is there any evidence that Jared Loughner tried to get mental health care and refused it? Was he uninsured, or insured on a plan with no mental health coverage? During his time in school, did he ever stop by the counseling center on campus?

We can complain about the issues around mental health care in the US, but if the person never ASKED for help - that arguement grinds to a halt.


We want to open a discussion regarding forced psychiatric / psychological screening based on behavior like Jared Loughner has been reported to have exhibited. Did he ever have an incident that should have resulted in forced care? Do we want to make it easier to lock people up for observation?

I guess I’m not seeing the magnitude of the problem here. Sure…mentally challenged persons shouldn’t be given a gun. That goes without saying. And, at a guess, persons diagnosed with sever mental problems probably aren’t, by and large. The devil is in the details, though. First off…how, how do you determine if someone is or isn’t mentally ill? What if the person in question hasn’t been officially diagnosed with any problem?

Then there is the falling through cracks aspect of all this. No matter how you set up the system, if you allow guns at all then sometimes the wrong people are going to fall through the cracks and wind up with a gun…or with a car, or with alcohol, or with whatever item or substance you are trying to control. Life works that way.

So…what is the actual magnitude of the problem here? How often does this happen, and is it happening enough to make it worth while to spend a lot of time and effort to correct? Liberal types (since this thread is aimed at conservatives) are fond of pointing at 9/11 as a one off…overblown by the government wrt the actual threat to society. Personally, I think that’s incorrect (and I also know plenty of liberals who don’t agree with this reasoning either), but to me this is even more so. What we have here, IMHO, is an example of the ‘shit happens’ principal. If, instead of a gun, this guy had been a drunk who crashed his car into the crowd and nearly killed a Senator, then we probably wouldn’t be looking at special laws to fix things we already have laws for (i.e. it’s already illegal to drive drunk and put people in danger, regardless of if they are elected officials or kids crossing a crosswalk).

When this starts happening on a regular basis, when schizophrenics are regularly killing people with guns they obtained legally by falling through cracks in the system…well, THEN we will need to take a serious look at the policies and tighten up the cracks. But we’ll do so with the knowledge that, no matter what you do, sometimes shit happens and when it does people may and probably will die. That’s life…



You know who, more than anyone except Jared Loughner, I blame most for this? His family, his friends, and his classmates and teachers and administration at school, who are now showing up on all the news shows saying how weird he was getting and how they were afraid of him. Why. The. Fuck. Didn’t. They. Have. Him. Evaluated? Suspended from school until he came back with a doctor’s note :rolleyes: when his teachers and classmates were worried that he might become violent in class is simply dropping the ball.

Now, I don’t know what the law in Arizona is. Here in Illinois, any one of those people - family, classmates, administrators, friends - who had good reason to believe he could be a threat to himself or others could have taken him into the ER, where they would have held him long enough for an evaluation. It’s actually pretty easy to have someone else admitted for a short time against their will.

What’s much harder is *keeping *someone in for treatment, even if they do want it. Especially with no insurance. Beds are short in hospitals, which are designed for acute care, and most of the long term psych facilities have been closed. People who genuinely need (and want) care can’t get it, and many of them can’t survive a “normal” life outside, and so the ranks of the mentally ill homeless swell.

Then there are those who game the system. I can’t blame them, honestly. It’s fucking cold out there, and if I had no home or good food to eat, and I knew the shelters were full of f’ing crazy people who might stab me in my sleep, I’d probably get myself to the ER and lie my ass off. “Yep, hearing voices! Yep, they want me to kill myself!” Three meals and two snacks, a warm bed, and a safe place where no one has so much as a shoelace to hurt me with? AND you’ll give me the good drugs and charge the government for it? You betcha. And it happens, a lot. These guys start coming in around the 15th of the month when their disability checks run out, stay until the 3rd when they get the next check, and then they’re “cured” for another two weeks until they run out of money again. And meanwhile, they’re taking up beds that genuinely unstable people, like Jared Loughner, medically need.

So, it’s a pretty complex problem, and it’s not just limited to guns and evaluation. There’s also long term treatment and the lack of appropriate resources for the homeless in there, too.

Because, legally, they couldn’t. The bar for ‘enough of a threat to be expelled’ is quite a bit lower than the bar of ‘enough of a threat to have your Constitutional rights stripped from you’.

Only if they are an IMMEDIATE danger to themselves or others. Unless you have something like a suicide note or death threat that indicates the person is a danger right at that instance, they won’t hold you against your will. In my admittedly non-professional opinion, I haven’t heard anything from this guys school that indicates they knew he was an IMMEDIATE danger.

That I will agree with, as well as your point about care being designed for the short term instead of the long term. My now ex-wife has been hospitalized over 20 times for suicidal feelings. I have no complaint about the short term emergency care she received, but I could rant for hours about the lack of long term assistance. When random people on Facebook are more of a help than the government, there’s something wrong with our policies.

No, he did not. And that’s his responsibility to some extent, but not everyone who is mentally ill is aware they are mentally ill because that’s the nature of that beast. People knew this guy was very sick.

He had a multitude of incidents that, cumulatively, indicated he was having a lot of problems to professors, students, and the campus cops at his school. It’s obvious just from these that he needed help, and like WhyNot said, since it’s that clear to outsiders, it should have been even more obvious to his family and friends. His friends have already indicated they knew he was having a lot of problems, including paranoid behavior like calling them up in the middle of the night to ask if they were outside spying on him. Here are the writeups from his incidents at Pima Community College. In May, he scared one of his teachers badly enough that she wanted an officer around for the last class of the semester. Something similar happened in September, and there were a lot of smaller incidents aside from those.

Are any of these incidents bizarre enough to get him institutionalized? I doubt it, at least with the way things are today. Partly that’s because his family seems to have done nothing and everybody else felt it was someone else’s responsibility.

No, this is exactly the wrong approach. This is not a problem just because this lunatic killed a bunch of people. This lunatic illustrates the problem, which should be dealt with regardless of whether or not people like him commit a lot of murders. I agree with the OP that this is a real concern that is being overlooked in all these discussions about political rhetoric. I won’t say for dead certain that the political rhetoric had nothing to do with it because I still want to hear more about why this happened, but pending further statements I’d say that is very likely the case.

The problem is that we see all the incidents in one big bunch. His friends, family, fellow students, teachers and others only saw part of the problem and there was no one person seeing it all.

Kind of like the blind men and the elephant.

Multiple people saw more than enough. This is not one of those cases where no one knew enough to put the piece together. His friends knew something his wrong and that he was deteriorating over time. It would’ve been more obvious to his family, although there have been a few hints the parents have some serious problems of their own. The college received enough complaints and saw enough that they knew something was wrong. The campus officers saw several of these and at least one of them dealt with him more than once and realized he was mentally ill, so he told someone with the college’s student services department. That guy - a doctor, and I’m guessing his doctorate is in something related to mental health - met with thim twice. Students who saw him multiple times in class were uncomfortable around him because they realized something was wrong with him. After those meetings, the school said he couldn’t come back unless he was cleared by a qualified professional. Then he posted a YouTube video accusing the college of genocide and torture, and the school was aware if that. He was subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury, although that seems to have gone away.

We can loosen up the requirements to get someone involuntarily committed and thus ensure that some people are committed when they don’t need it. Or we can make it easier to force someone to go on psychiatric medications, ensuring that some people will suffer the side effects of medicine they don’t need. Or we can continue with the status quo, and sometimes people get shot.

Some problems have no good solutions.


I… agree with Shodan. People are making way too much of this. If he’d attempted to assassinate Giffords and had been apprehended before shooting anyone, nobody would care.

True. But when there’s no perfect solution, don’t you have to do a cost benefit analysis and choose the best option? Don’t you need to make that option work as well as possible? I’m not convinced the system works all that well.

Seriously? You think that if a gunman made a dash toward a federal legislator and judge, amongst others, at a grocery store on a Saturday morning, but was stopped before firing a shot, there wouldn’t be debate over this (Congressional security, the rhetoric, gun laws, mental health policy, etc)?

I think you’re incorrect. People would be talking and debating just as much, even if no one was shot. We’d still be digging into who this guy was, what was his history, what was his motive, what did his family and friends say about him, why hadn’t he received some treatment, should he have been able to buy the gun, etc.

I am not necessarily saying that we are making too much of this; only that whatever we decide to do will have consequences.

The first law of ecology - “you can’t do just one thing”.

Problems with easy solutions get fixed right away. The tension between respecting someone’s rights and locking them up for their own good - and ours - has been going on for decades.

This harks back to the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill that got going back in the sixties. The idea was that we didn’t need to lock them up, they could get treatment from local community health centers. So they were let loose, when everyone knew perfectly well that there were nowhere near enough such centers, and that paranoid schizophrenics aren’t going to show up responsibly to take their medication unless they are forced to.

So instead of sitting like zombies in some crowded snakepit staggering around with the Haldol shuffle, we get them sitting on park benches talking to themselves and living off SSI. Or not living at all, as the case may be.

Do you think this Loughner guy (if he is indeed guilty) would willingly take medication if he wasn’t institutionalized? And do you think we have the resources to lock every schizoid up, especially proactively?

Somebody “should have noticed”. Well, OK. Can you come up with a set of rules that will apply to 300 million people that both do a better job of catching the crazies before they open fire, and also respect the rights of the huge majority of crazies who aren’t dangerous? If so, I would like to hear them. But you gotta be clear, you gotta be specific, and you gotta show that it will be better than it is now.


Frankly, no. If no one had been shot, this would not even have made page 5 of the Tucson newspaper.

It only leads if it bleeds.


Is it really conservative policies that make it difficult to involuntarily commit someone?

Well, Loughner might have willingly taken medication. We don’t know.

I don’t think so. Liberals (and libertarians) did a lot to make it harder to involuntarily commit people in the sixties and seventies.

I suppose the argument could be made that it’s less likely for people to be involuntarily committed even when they meet the standards because conservatives have gutted mental health services, but that’s not the same thing.

I’m not sure about that. Libertarian, no?

Sure we do.

The difficulty being that we are probably not going to agree on what the benefits will be, and if they are worth the cost.

Let’s say we come up with a proposed solution - say a new set of rules on when to institutionalize. But you dont’t know how often it gives a false positive - people who shouldn’t be institutionalized are locked up. And it costs, say, a billion dollars a year, per state. But it will save six lives, including the little girl who got shot who was born on 9/11. (I disremember her name).

Is that worth it? Is it worth $50 billion and all those loss of civil rights? Some people will say Yes - the life of this precious child is worth any amount of money. Others, especially hard-hearted cynics like myself will say that I love children and so on, but $50 billion can be better spent somewhere else, and not by the government.

Cost-benefit analysis is a wonderful tool, but politicians don’t like it because it tends not to appeal to emotion. Cost-benefit analysis says that cigarettes save health care costs and Social Security, but the defense was specifically forbidden to use that argument when the DAs sued the tobacco companies. I have been known to argue that a cost-benefit analysis favors the death penalty, but I don’t recall a lot of agreement with me on the SDMB on the point.

What we would be likely to wind up with is what we got now - a compromise, with something for everyone, but doesn’t really address either concern very well.

It doesn’t mean this is a discussion we can’t have - just that I am not sanguine about the end result being any better than now.

“Those who love sausage and those who love law should never watch either being made”. Unless, that is, they want to understand the process, while keeping in mind the reason it gets made that way.


Shodan is to be involuntarily committed for using disremember in a sentence. Clearly, a textbook narcissist.