Fallout from the Arizona shooting

Most people commenting on the Arizona shooting are speculating about motive, the role of public discourse on the shooter, and the shooter’s mental health.  I confess my bias from the start – from what I have read, the shooter Jared Loughner sounds like he is paranoid schizophrenic. Of course, I am not engaging in a formal diagnosis since I have no direct data. However, the signs are certainly suggestive.

What is bound to happen for some time to come is the blaming of the event on ideology. The left seems to be pulling out Sarah Palin’s use of bullseyes on Giffords district and the right is doing the same – apparently some disgruntled far left people also know how to use bullseyes. For some reason, The Daily Kos removed a post which had some very disturbing things to say about Rep. Giffords.

In any case, my personal view is that efforts to locate this horrible act in ideology is a mistake. As with other shootings, I think mental illness is underestimated by policy makers. Apparently there were warning signs which were “handled” but were not addressed in any meaningful way. The curent laws do not allow for a long term response to signs of instability, but rather on short term detention for people who might seem to be a danger to themselves or others.

The right and left will blame each side for the tragedy, but I hope at some point we will come together and look at the need for a more comprehensive policy relating to the treatment of severe mental illness and the long term treatment needs of those afflicted.

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  • Mary

    I also agree that blaming this on political vitriol is useless. The real problem is that we have an individual with mental instability and he needed help. I hope this country starts to take mental illness seriously.

  • MIchael Bussee

    I think mental illness is underestimated by policy makers.

    Agreed. So please: No more talk from policy makers about “taking aim” or “reloading”. No more cross hairs or bullseyes. Mentally ill folks may take you seriously.

  • carole

    You both make great points.

    First, the country is painfully unaware of the signs and symptoms of mental illness. Most people don’t even understand that mental illness is biological in nature. They still think it’s a “mind” rather than a “brain” thing.

    Second, law enforcement and especially the prosecutorial side of law enforcement, is loathe to ascribe mental illness as the underlying reason for a criminal event. They are afraid that the mentally ill person, who is, after all, dangerous, will get off. They have reason to fear that, of course, since it has happened, with dangerous people being returned to society only to create more tragedy. Nevertheless, I have faith that an education campaign about mental illness can help shape rational discussions all issues, including the legal ones, related to it.

    Third, I don’t really believe that anything in the political sphere was any more responsible for this shooter’s rampage than was anything else in his life or in this society or in the world. I don’t think it was a catalyst for his behavior any more than was the heavy metal, nihilistic music he idolized. I suppose that to a person suffering from mental illness, everything CAN BE a catalyst (but not cause) and NOTHING need be a catalyst for a single act.

    However, that being said, the lack of civility in our language, especially in our public language, has long been troubling to me. We’ve seen its effects in the schools, beginning decades ago. (K-3 teachers have a problem with the use of the “f” word from kids that young.) We’ve seen it in the language and behavior of the average citizen, but it has not been an overnight phenomenon. It’s been progressive, worsening over decades, and now, with lightening fast communications, it’s omnipresent.

    True, it is especially bad when publicly elected officials spew vitriol (that Florida democratic congressman,Alan Grayson, who was voted out last election immediately comes to mind as well as the Republican congressman who shouted out “liar” in the President’s speech to Congress.)

    Every adult needs to be a better role model for the young. Unfortunately, I don’t hold out much hope.

    Lastly, I don’t think that those who spoke of “re-loading” or “taking aim” were doing anything more than using idioms that in another era, would mean nothing, but that yes, in this era, are metaphorically problematic–not because they meant anything by them, but because their political opponents, at a time like this, seek to make political points by pointing to them. Lack of such idiomatic use would not have prevented this guy from doing what he did.

    Obama’s “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun” during the campaign and Palin’s “reload” are, in hindsight, seen differently than they were at the time, but all public officials, all adults, need to re-think their language because of the times in which we live.

    Every adult needs to be a better role model for the young. Unfortunately, I don’t hold out much hope.

    Anway, that’s my two cents.

  • carole – Welcome back…

  • Ann

    carole – Welcome back…

    I really agree with this sentiment

  • stephen

    Let’s hope this might prompt some to dial down the foul and unrelenting assault on LGBT Americans.

  • MIchael Bussee

    Metaphor Monday :: Can Words Kill?

    We can see metaphors of violence and warfare in contemporary political speech. Most of us, thankfully, don’t act out these metaphors. Whatever the case, we can see that political speech focuses more on attacking the person, e.g., Obama, rather than ideas, e.g., healthcare.

    Whatever is happening, mindfulness is certainly absent. So we can think about the words we use and consider the consequences of the words we use. We identify with our words; they shape the way we see the world, what we pay attention to and what we ignore. ~ Arnie Kozak


    Reminds me of: “Careful the things you say. Careful the wish you make. Wishes are children.” — Sondheim, Into the Woods

  • carole

    Thanks Warren, thanks Ann.

    I agree with both Mara Liasson and Charles Krauthammer, two people on opposite sides of the political spectrum, and with a growing number of commentators who’ve had a couple of days to read over the accumulating evidence that this young man was in a psychotic state which had been growing worse over the last few months but which had been in evidence for some time–that the state of political discourse in the country is a good topic for national discussion but that it should be separated from this particular event and the individual who perpetrated it. Those who sought immediately, even hopefully, to link the twom before even any facts were known, in an effort to gain political advantage, are looking more and more vile themselves and their reputations are suffering. (one example=Paul Krugman).

  • stephen


    you offer a perfect example of the rot coming from the right. Krugman is a Nobel laureate – how dare you slander him so ignorantly: Krauthammer is a professional, for-profit hack. The vitriol comes from the right: Fox, AM Radio, Limbaugh, Beck, Palin, Bachmann, Coulter, Malkin; all the for-profit opinionators on hire from Koch industries. – I hear it when I drive around, an unrelenting assault on Democrats, on unions, on free-thinkers, on the educated, the arts, the cultured, on anything that doesn’t put money in their pockets.

  • stephen

    “WikiLeaks staff and contributors have also been the target of unprecedented violent rhetoric by US prominent media personalities, including Sarah Palin, who urged the US administration to “Hunt down the WikiLeaks chief like the Taliban”. Prominent US politician Mike Huckabee called for the execution of WikiLeaks spokesman Julian Assange on his Fox News program last November, and Fox News commentator Bob Beckel, referring to Assange, publicly called for people to “illegally shoot the son of a bitch.” US radio personality Rush Limbaugh has called for pressure to “Give [Fox News President Roger] Ailes the order and [then] there is no Assange, I’ll guarantee you, and there will be no fingerprints on it.”, while the Washington Times columnist Jeffery T. Kuhner titled his column “Assassinate Assange” captioned with a picture Julian Assange overlayed with a gun site, blood spatters, and “WANTED DEAD or ALIVE” with the alive crossed out.”

  • David Blakeslee

    Some thoughts:

    The madness that is the human condition is regulated for most by the frontal cortex, which reality tests and delays impulses…somewhere in there is a profound awareness that other people exist outside our fantasies and that my impulses need regulation, if nothing else, to protect my neighbor.

    Severe Mental Illness, from Kip Kinkle to the Virginia Tech killer, to Loughner is easily recognizable prior to the fact, and much more obvious after the fact.

    The overwhelming SMI are harmless; and mostly dangerous to themselves through neglect or self-endangerment.

    Video games, political rhetoric, violent movies seem far too detached from the facts to account for the violent event.

    If they are the cause there are 1000 acts of entertainment a person views freely everyday, which could incite rape, murder and left.

    In a free society (the one we currently have) protecting the brittle and the fragile mind from this “stuff” is impossible. A sick mind can feast, both passively and actively every day in multiple venues…until it gets its fill.

    The rest is then planning and implementation.

  • MIchael Bussee

    Video games, political rhetoric, violent movies seem far too detached from the facts to account for the violent event.

    That is true only if one is looking for a direct and simplistic cause/effect relationship. But who would argue that violent rhetoric and imagery could not add fuel to the internal madness? To assert that it has no impact at all seems rather naive to me.

    It reminds me of folks who insist that anti-gay (or hateful racial/religious rhetoric) plays absolutely no part in the violence against members of minority groups. Rhetoric does not pull the trigger but it sets the tone.

  • David Blakeslee


    Your argument can be turned against you by fundamentalists who argue that teaching about sexual minorities exposes “vulnerable populations” to information that will convert them to homosexuality.

    There is just too much going on in a person’s head, and in their past and too much effort during their developmental years to teach them how to process fact from fiction for your assertion to carry much weight.

  • stephen

    Meanwhile, gay Americans are exposed to an avalanche of vitriol every day.

  • Mary

    I really can understand how God lost it and wanted to start over with humankind. Really. Read how many factions in this thread are at it. Amazing. The guy was mentally ill. We seem not to care about that and either bring it home to being gay bashed or media blame or how we are suffering. The guy was mentally ill and he has suffered and caused suffering of others becaue no one cared enough to step in.

  • MIchael Bussee

    Your argument can be turned against you by fundamentalists

    That’s true of any argument with fundamentalists. One reason I am trying not to engage them as much nowadays :).

    David and/or Warren: Would you agree that one of the characteristics of mental illness (particularly psychotic disorders) is difficultly with reality testing and a tendency to think concretely?

    It has been my experience with delusional or paranoid patients that they tend not to “get” metaphors. If someone mentions “skating of thin ice”, they think literal ice. If someone is said to be “between a rock and a hard place”, they think actual stones.

    I am not arguing that this shooter was responding to the violent political rhetoric of our times. We have no way of knowing for sure what his motivations were. That he was (is) deeply troubled is all we know. Please don’t get me wrong. I am not asserting that violent metaphors cause these sorts of explosive outbursts.

    Only that we ought to be more careful about the words we choose. Violent metaphors may or may not increase the likelihood of violence, but why take that chance? Why not have all political leaders make a commitment to be more civil? Who could that hurt?

  • David Blakeslee


    I think “we” are careful…but short of regulating free speech, “we” cannot make sure others are more careful.

    The Sheriff involved in this case heads a department. It is his job to be calm and rational and let the facts develop, not fuel incendiary viewpoints which do not fit the facts.

    He had a fiduciary responsibility and the professional training to regulate his speech…and he chose not to.

    If we cannot get a seasoned, well trained head of a sheriff’s department to not be inflammatory, it is unlikely that we can get politicians or pundits to “watch their words.”

    The essence of mental illness of this nature is the distortion of reality and the preference for the internal world over the external world. Modifying the external world at the level you suggest will be met with the same internal distortions and still result in the same outcomes.

  • MIchael Bussee

    Jewish Groups: “We Are Deeply Disturbed” by Palin’s Use of Anti-Semitic Term “Blood Libel,” She Should Apologize

    “All we had asked following this weekend’s tragedy was for prayers for the dead and wounded, and for all of us to take a step back and look inward to see how we can improve the tenor of our coarsening public debate.”


  • MIchael Bussee

    “…to take a step back and look inward to see how we can improve the tenor of our coarsening public debate…”

    Too much to ask?

  • David Blakeslee

    Consider the following fact:

    But as Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, a research psychiatrist, writes in his book, “The Insanity Offense,” about 1 percent of the seriously mentally ill (or about 40,000 individuals) are violent. They account for about half the rampage murders in the United States.

    quoted here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/11/opinion/11brooks.html?_r=1&ref=opinion

  • Mary

    People, you are forgetting the political rhetoric of yesteryear. This is almost unbearable to read. so much has about American History has been forgotten or polished over.

    Granted, I don’t like the violent tones and metaphors that are used. But if I hear them, then I know something about the speaker and tune them out. There is more meaningful ways to communicate with the public, the media, “the crowd”

  • ken

    Here’s an interesting op-ed piece about Jared Loughner. I liked the comparison to Nidal Hasan.