Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Missing Narrative of the Tucson Tragedy

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jaredloughnerPresident Obama is set to arrive in Tucson later this afternoon, presumably to comfort a grieving community. Naturally, I will not be going to hear the President speak. There are cacti in the desert outside my balcony that provide greater comfort than our hapless President.

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Nevertheless, there is rampant speculation as to what the President will actually say in his remarks. The far left has already called for a new, restrictive set of gun laws. Leftist columnist Gail Collins wrote as much in the immediate aftermath of the attack, calling Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ pro 2nd Amendment views “out of fashion,” even as the Congresswoman lay fighting for her life in a Tucson hospital.

The view articulated by Collins is, of course, out of fashion itself - at least in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District. Even the NYT is forced to admit as much. But the shooting narrative coming from the left has cast a wide array of aspersions, targeting nearly every public figure on the right, from politicians like Sarah Palin to talking heads like Rush Limbaugh.

In the end, the misappropriations of blame do a supreme injustice to the real issue: mental health. Blogger Penelope Trunk pointed this out in a recent column, highlighting both the shootings in Arizona and the recent suicide of a fellow blogger and computer programmer.

Her point was simple:

The mental health system is broken. Few people have enough money to get good mental health care. And few dollars are spent to encourage people to use those expensive benefits.

This strikes me as a reasonable statement of the obvious. Our Nation’s mental health system is ailing, with cases like Jared Loughner’s being more likely to fall through the cracks of the system than not.

Columnist David Brooks made a similar point in piece from yesterday’s New York Times. As Brooks notes, there is simply zero evidence to suggest that shooting suspect Jared Loughner was in any way influenced by any political rhetoric apart from the voices in his own head. By contrast, there is an abundance of evidence to suggest that Loughner suffered from a mental illness:

All of this evidence, which is easily accessible on the Internet, points to the possibility that Loughner may be suffering from a mental illness like schizophrenia. The vast majority of schizophrenics are not violent, and those that receive treatment are not violent. 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.

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This is the real tragedy. Our health care system is woefully ill-equipped to handle mental health cases such as Loughner’s. Adding salt to the wound, none of our political leaders (from either party) have discussed any sort of mental health reform or awareness in the wake of the shooting.

Being quite adept at finding itself on the wrong side of an issue, the left is poised to take up the mantle of gun-control. Already, one Democrat Senator has proposed banning high-capacity magazines such as those used in the Tucson shootings. This of course, ignores the fact that the difference between a typical magazine capacity and an extended magazine capacity is fairly minimal. Consider that some 19 people were injured in Saturday’s close-range shooting. The typical magazine of a Glock 9mm pistol holds 15 shells.

The real problems are the ones outlined by brooks: “How can we more aggressively treat mentally ill people who are becoming increasingly disruptive? How can we prevent them from getting guns? Do we need to make involuntary treatment easier for authorities to invoke?”

Until the powers that be address the actual problems of mental health brought to light by the Tucson tragedy, the narrative of the shooting will remain incomplete.

President Obama is coming to Tucson! As Sinatra said, “Send in the clowns.”

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