The Missing Conversation from Arizona

Saturday morning I was watching the Twitter stream when the first accounts of the shooting in Arizona began to ring out. The news reports were, as we all know now, all over the map, with various accounts of what happened, and the reported death of Congresswoman Giffords. At the same time, within the first hours of the tragedy, various bloggers moved quickly to note that Giffords was one of the targets on the Sarah Palin map, offering speculation about the connections between the often violent speech of the right-wing with this latest tragedy. Those speculations were fueled when an obviously distraught Arizona sheriff suggested that the anti-governmental screed found in the media may have had a connection to this tragedy. In the hours and days since, the narrative about the connection between violent political rhetoric as a factor in leading troubled people to respond violently has been front and center in the media.

Over time (beyond the defensive responses of Tea Party officials and the ludicrous attempts by Palin supporters to suggest that the map didn’t actually have gun based images on it) a few voices have come forth so recognize that the connection between the condemned rhetoric and the killer was not one of cause and effect. It’s clear that Jared Loughner is a very troubled, very sick man whose own demons were the driving factor in this tragedy. While the rhetoric may have provided a climate of hate and demonization that was in the background of Mr. Loughner’s delusions, there is no indication that he was driven by any specific voice or any specific images to carry out the attacks of this past weekend.

However, in the midst of all the speculation and the attempts to point the finger (which is part of the normal human desire to seek for simplistic answers in the midst of tragedy) there is a conversation that has been largely missing from the dialogue . . . a conversation that is in my opinion a valid critique of extremism that led to this crime more than any other . . . and that conversation is about the ease in which a deranged person like Mr. Loughner could obtain the weapon used to shoot innocent people.

By all indications to this point, the 9mm Glock that Loughner used was purchased legally in a normal gun store according to the regulations of our day. This was done in the midst of Mr. Loughner’s delusional ranting and odd demeanor which was apparent enough to lead a community college to ban him from the campus unless he received mental health treatment and led the U.S. military to not accept him as a new recruit. Mr. Loughner had a arrest record and was posting videos and notes on the web which suggested that something wasn’t quite right. And yet, this person had no problem walking into a store, plopping down his $400 and walking out with an implement that is as dangerous (and maybe more so in the fact that it can be concealed until use) as the 2,000 pound vehicle he rode to the site in which required testing and a license to operate. At some point there is a disconnect here that has to be discussed.

And that is where the right gets it wrong I think, for the right has traditionally taken an all or nothing approach to the conversation about firearms. In the desire to avoid what they see as a slippery slope of regulation that will ultimately lead to the banning of all weapons, groups like the NRA have taken an absolutist position that fails to recognize that the rights that allow them to own a gun conflict with the rights of others to not be shot by crazy people. There is an unwillingness to talk about the thousand pound elephant in the room – that there are some people who (due to their impaired mental status) simply should not have a weapon in their presence. Putting systems of licensing and testing in place offers the opportunity for someone to recognize those dangers early on, and perhaps prevent situations like the one we saw Saturday.

Look, I admit fully that I’m not a gun guy. I don’t own any guns and shooting is not my thing. But I have family and friends who are avid hunters and I affirm their desire to own guns and use them in a responsible manner. While I find myself more ambivalent about handguns (which beyond target practice are not weapons of sport) I likewise am open to their being sold to individuals – but only after a background check and some form of licensing procedure. Out inability to do so leads each year to deaths by accident and due to gun use by mentally instable individuals.

And that is where I make my appeal to my friends on the right. I don’t want to take your guns away, but it’s time for a rational conversation regarding keeping them out of the hands of folks who cannot rationally discern right from wrong. We all have the right to own vehicles, but have established that they are dangerous enough to operate that setting up limits on operating them are appropriate – and require testing and licensing to do so. Isn’t it possible that if Mr. Loughner had been required to undergo some sort of testing procedure and a background check a 9 year old girl would be alive this morning?

This is the conversation that should be taking place this morning . . . one that is reasonable and balanced, not between extremists on the right and left each arguing positions that impede on the rights of the other, but by folks who recognize the complexity of our world and understand that their is life between the extremes that attempts to balance the rights of one with the other to ensure the safety of all.

5 thoughts on “The Missing Conversation from Arizona

  1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Jay. You appear to be trying to grapple with another question that is not being regularly asked. How do we prevent this from happening again? Your call to responsible gun sales is a logical approach. It seems, however, that the residents of Arizona are attempting to respond in a totally different manner. They are buying up the types of handguns Mr. Loughner used at an alarming rate in that state (
    This is a tad frightening. Are they afraid more reasonable regulations are coming? Are they hoping to be prepared for the next unbalanced individual who is packing this type of weaponry? Whatever the reason, it is unnerving to realize that these sales shot up exponentially right after the horrific event.

  2. Other questions also arise:

    What kind of testing procedure could be devised to determine whether someone would use a gun for murder?

    Would a background check be a reliable way to find out if a person is mentally unbalanced?

    Who would we trust to have control over that kind of testing? In other words, who decides and how far do we take it?

    I’m not trying to argue with you, since I also don’t own any guns and don’t like to be around them, but to me the bigger context is this:

    How should we as Christians be dealing with the mentally ill (or demonically possessed) in our midst?

    1. I am a mother of a young man who POTENTIALLY fits the shooter’s profile. I daily live with the thought that my son could very well be this shooter. My son’s mental illness is frightening as it is not monitered by a medical professional (mostly due to lack of health insurance, funds, etc.). With the new changes in health insurance, I look forward to finding medical attention for my son in the next few weeks.

      As far as obtaining weapons, well, my son owns guns, some real, some simulated for his living history museum participation of WWII re-inactments. Some of the simulated guns appear “real” to the untrained eye. He could very well use one of these simulated guns to simply frighten a target group of people (which in my opinion is grounds for terrorism).

      I hope and pray daily that I won’t ever have to deal with this as a mohter, But with un-monitered mental illness, each day is like a ticking time-bomb. And I do wish there were ways to perform some sort of time-sensitive background check when an individual purchases a weapon. This could certainly weed out potentially dangerous gun owners. But, with HIPAA enforcement, protections are in place so an individual’s medical/health information is not given out to just anyone without specific permissions. Maybe as a nation we could go the way of the sex offenders registry and have folks with mental illness to do the same?

  3. First. He did have a liscense for the vehicle he drove. He took a test, passed, and was issued the liscense. Had he used the vehcile for a weapon, the death toll could have been much higher. We are lucky he did not do this; however, hypothetically, had he done it the test and liscense would not have prevented the problem.

    Second. I do not see an effective way for the military to prevent situations like this. Only 3 out of every 10 Americans can qualify for military service. The military would have to process 7 out of every 10 people by identifying them by a variety of codes as to why they were not accepted. this information would have to be passed along to the various states. Privacy laws would have to be changed and/or done away with. The states would then have to investigate and even at that, there are 9 states that do not allow involuntary confinement without trial. This person was kicked out of college and told he could not come back until he received pyshcological help. This was a prime opportunity for the school to notify the police of the situation. They did not. We also know the police visited his residence at least twice. The reason for the visits have not been released. Instead the sherrif who was so quick to blame conservitives and tea partiers for this situation has hired a law firm to protect the department from the release of the information.

    third. The VA Tech shooting and this one have a couple things in common. Both people were mentally ill and the schools knew about it. Even had the schools reported it, depending on HIPPA (sp), the background checks may not have picked this up. Democrats are not keen on changing HIPPA to allow and require this information to be reported to the apprpriate agencies. The NRA worked to get mental health records made available to the crime check system.

    fourth. Liscensing and testing. This opens up seveal problems. The first is how do you determine in a cost effecient and accurate manner whether a person is going to go nuts an kill someone. I do not believe that technology exists. If it did, you still run into the fundamental issue. If we are going to test and liscense for the second ammendment, then what is next: free speech, freedom of religion, freedom to assemble, due process, or right to vote. Laugh if you want, but some have suggested that people pass a test before they can vote. It is a very, very dangerous precedent for our country bassed on democracy and the constitution.

    fifth. You really should read the constitution. We do not have the right to drive a vehcile. Period.

    Finally. In your not so veiled attempt to link this to Sarah Pallin and others on the right. Sarah Pallin is the only politician on the national stage to offer true leadership on the tragedy. Read her remarks on facebook. The truth is this whole poliicalization of this event is a result of the far left. From the sheriif to various politicains and donors, the left has tried to exploit this rather than to sympathize with the family. Some democrat politicians are trying to use this as a fund raiser. Don’t look for this info on the View though. You won’t find it.

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