Tuesday, January 11, 2011



What changes can we expect in our society as a result of the Tucson massacre?

Over the last few days since the shooting, we've heard a lot of reporting and conversation about the ramifications of this latest gun massacre by a clearly mentally disturbed individual. it seems to me there are three issues at the center of this incident, only one of which has dominated the reporting--the violent rhetoric and the atmosphere it has created.

As for that, we've heard plenty.

One of the less reported issues is the easy access Loughner had to both a semi-automatic weapon, and apparently easier still, the 30-round clip magazine he bought at Walmart. A 30-round clip is larger than any police force standard issue, and is used by law enforcement agencies in rare cases; it is used only for killing lots of people, fast. As he did.

And almost no one is talking about the defunding of mental illness prevention and treatment in the US over the last decades.

The intersection of the last two raises the question of screening out potential buyers of guns or ammunition-- those that are deemed mentally unstable--especially of course semi-automatic weapons and high capacity clips.

The lack of mental health funding seriously impairs our country's ability to isolate, treat and/or quarantine those likely to commit violent crime.  So in so many cases where an historical look back at the perpetrators' behavior indicates obvious mental health issues that were not either addressed or followed up on, we bemoan the fact the the perp fell through the cracks of our mental health network.

And since these sociopaths, psychopaths, or just unbalanced wackos are not in our system, they of course are not screened out at the Walmart gun counter.  Many may have access to illegal products, but it appears most perps bought their weapons and ammo legally.

The only ongoing debate, three days after the shooting, is whether the "vitriolic rhetoric" can be a causal factor in Loughner's spree (and all the others), and regardless, who's responsible for the rhetoric.

Hardly a word about the other issues, and I expect there will be little to come.

So what changes in any of these three arenas can we expect?

Will the perpetrators of what Paul Krugman effectively calls "eliminationist rhetoric," have a mea culpa, admit it's not a good thing, and change their tone and style to comprise a more nuanced and intelligent debate on issues, stop the fear-mongering and hate speech, stop demonizing their opponents?

Will the USA see a teaching moment here and finally address the laws--or lack of them--that allow us to legally buy and own assault weapons (since the law against that was not renewed in 2004) and 30-round clips, that allow an old west trading market at gun shows?

Will we realize the defunding of mental illness prevention and treatment is not an invisible problem anymore, and has real serious consequences for our society?