Anger and Unanswered Questions in Arizona
I still can’t wrap my mind around the senseless shooting in Arizona that left 13 wounded and six dead. I’m glad to hear that doctors are optimistic about Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords recovery. This is a woman who has dedicated her life to public service, and she and her family remain in my prayers. My heart goes out to all the families affected by this tragedy.
Whenever we hear stories of a guy who starts firing into a crowd, we shake our heads in horror and ask, “Could this have been predicted?” As a mental health professional, that’s a question that I always think about. But the truth is we don’t have the psychological test to predict the next Columbine or Virginia Tech shooting.
A lot of people are hurt, angry and want answers. I get that. Here’s what we know about the alleged shooter, Jared Loughner: He railed on about the government. He listed Mein Kampf and The Communist Manifesto as among his favorite books. We know he had been arrested for drug paraphernalia, although that was ultimately dismissed. On December 30, he posted on his Facebook page: “My shot is now ready for aim,” and “I define terrorist.”
In looking back, the red flags were there. But here’s the problem: There are thousands of people who behave this way, who write these things, but they don’t actually commit an act of violence. So, talking about guns on a Facebook page is not predictive of who will do something violent. A lot of folks are asking, “Is this a sign of people being so upset with the economy and government that they are just taking matters into their own hands?” But I think that is just a wrong way to look at this.
I can tell you, from a psychological point of view, I think some of the rhetoric in America is getting very dangerous. Now, before you send me an e-mail about freedom of speech, let me say that I’m a great proponent of the First Amendment. Even when the tabloids and gossip columns print all sorts of lies about me, I’m still a proponent of free speech. But, I have to say, some of the rhetoric is getting very dangerous, to the point of inciting others to do reckless or irrational things. In America, we have the right to say what we want to say, but with rights come responsibilities. I think we have to not muzzle each other, but sometimes, we should muzzle ourselves.
So, do I think Jared Loughner’s alleged shooting was a political act? In my view, this was a mentally ill individual who had a hard time with impulses, and fantasies and really bizarre thinking. That doesn’t trivialize the fact that six people will be buried this week and 13 others are still recovering from their wounds. But, we’ve got to come together as a nation to talk through this and start the healing process. It’s my hope that people close to someone who is in a meltdown phase, will raise a flag.