As details emerge about alleged shooter Jared Lee Loughner, who opened fire at Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ community event in Tucson, the tragedy paints an emerging picture of a failed system that needs to work beyond individual action.
This situation is particularly tragic because it seems as though enough was known to prevent this mass shooting. I think about the anti-terrorism message, “If you see somthing, say something.” And in Doing Right by Our Kids, we are developing a core principle of “see, intuit, and act.” In the case of Loughner, people around him did perceive Loughner’s erratic, disturbing behavior, and did say something and even took action. Loughner was identified as a threat in a classic Gift of Fear kind of way. A classmate made a point to sit near the door when she was in the room with Loughner and emailed her concerns to a friend after the first day of class:
One day down and nineteen to go. We do have one student in the class who was disruptive today, I’m not certain yet if he was on drugs (as one person surmised) or disturbed. He scares me a bit. The teacher tried to throw him out and he refused to go, so I talked to the teacher afterward. Hopefully he will be out of class very soon, and not come back with an automatic weapon.
And the instructor Ben McGahee was so concerned that, “When I turned my back to write on the board, I would always turn back quickly–to see if he had a gun.” To his credit, Magahee made repeated complaints to the administration that eventually led to Loughner being removed from the class.
But then there was not a clear path to follow up or identify Loughner as a potentially troubled individual after that. He was still able to easily buy a semi-automatic weapon.
The acts of individual and life-risking heroism performed by people on the scene were amazingly brave and almost certainly saved many lives – but individual action in the moment alone was not enough to stop one deeply disturbed person from being able fire 31 shots, killing 6 people and wound 14 others, causing trauma and heartbreak to millions of people.
How on earth is that weapon legal? It says a lot about our political system and the failure of gun control efforts, which have been rolled back in recent years, since in 2004 the Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired.
I re-read the Second Amendment and I really wish could go back in time to ask the Founding Fathers to rewrite it and make it a lot clearer, or for our current leaders to do more soul searching about what it means in the year 2011, with weaponry available that the Founding Fathers could not possibly have imagined. How do these 27 words relate and apply to the ability to buy a semi-automatic weapon with an “instant background check” and carry such a weapon in public?
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
I keep thinking about Christina Green, the nine-year old who was killed in the rampage. We want nine year olds who are interested in government to be able to participate in a neighborhood meeting with a Congressperson. Her ability to do so is at the heart of our Democracy. I will not accept the proposition that doing so should be a life-risking activity. Some have proposed that more guns are the answer, such as Congressman Heath Shuler of North Carolina, who has stated that in response to this weekend’s violence, he will start carrying a concealed weapon to events. But I fail to see how adding more guns into the situation is a real solution.
It is time to come up with better solutions to promote Safety at All Levels to work toward a safer society for all of us, especially kids.
National soul-searching has begun. I recommend the following coverage as a start to this dialogue:
“Giffords Shooting Raises Questions About Mental Health Care,” Amanda Marcotte writing on RHRealityCheck.org
Arizona shooting coverage in The New York Times.
“What if 31 Shots Had Only Been 10?” Mother Jones–reflection on 2004 expiration of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban
“Shootings in Arizona” episode of The Diane Rehm Show with expert discussion and listener call-in, Jan 10, 2011.
“Former Teacher on Accused Shooter,” NPR interview with college instructor Ben McGahee, Jan 10, 2011,
I have long been troubled by the issue of mental illness among college students, and how to effectively get help for young adults whose problems manifest during the college years. I chronicled my own experiences from a frustrated peer counselor’s point of view in my March 31, 2010 MojoMom.com blog post, “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be….dorm counselors.”
Post updated with more resources and coverage:
“A Flood Tide of Murder,” Op-Ed by Bob Herbert, The New York Times, Jan 10, 2011
“Police Say They Visited Tucson Suspect’s Home Even Before Rampage,” The New York Times, Jan 11, 2011
“Serious Psychiatric Disorders Among Young Adults,” The Diane Rehm Show, January 11, 2010. Really good discussion among mental health professionals, including reference to resources for families who are worried about their adult children.