Sunday, January 23, 2011

Tucson Aftermath, Part 5: Lesson to learn

In the rush to find a simple answer for the cause of this violence, in the rush to point fingers at someone or something, most people seem to have ignored the two major factors in the Tucson tragedy. First, that Jared Lee Loughner is mentally ill, and second, that he was easily, legally able to get a hold of a gun and carry that gun concealed.

And not just any gun. The handgun used by Jared Lee Loughner to shoot 19 people, killing 6 of them, was a Glock 19 9mm handgun equipped with an extended magazine capable of holding 34 bullets and fired-till-empty in less than 10 seconds. This weapon, specifically the extended magazine, was illegal up until 2004 when the Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired under the Bush administration. Despite favoring the ban on assault weapons, then President Bush and current President Obama face opposition from a Congress heavily influenced by the NRA gun lobby.

The NRA has successfully planted the myth into the minds of loyal gun enthusiasts that the 'liberals want to take your guns away.' After the election of the nation's first African-American president in 2008, the Right first went into a panic and then went gun shopping.

Since the shooting in Tucson, America's gun-lust has taken another sick twist with the report that gun sales have suddenly increased. According to Arizona gun store owner Greg Wolff, the $500 Glock handguns, like the one used by Jared Lee Loughner, have been flying off the shelves. "We're at double our volume over what we usually do," said Wolff, two days after the shooting.

Data complied by the FBI reports that one-day sales of handguns in Arizona jumped 60 percent; while in Ohio, one-day sales was highest at 65 percent, contributing to a national overall 5 percent increase in handgun sales.

The debate over the tone of politics in America is an important one and one that must continue. But while hateful, ugly rhetoric and ideology of revolution, racism, and pro-gun talk from the Right has influenced some to carry out acts of violence in the past and may likely in the future, in this case there is so far no evidence that politics or hate speech played any part in motivating Jared Lee Loughner to shoot 19 people on that Saturday in Tucson.

As Zach Osler, a friend of Loughner, told ABC's Good Morning America, Loughner "did not watch TV. He disliked the news. He didn’t listen to political radio. He didn’t take sides. He wasn’t on the left. He wasn’t on the right."

In the end, the tragedy in Tucson was not caused by Right-wing talk. It was not caused by heavy metal music or marijuana. The murder of 6 people, including 9 year-old Christina Taylor Green, and wounding of 13 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was caused by a gun in the hands of a mad man.

There was a massive systemic failure in keeping Loughner from purchasing that weapon. Because Loughner's arrest for drug paraphernalia did not carry a criminal conviction and because he was never officially diagnosed with an mental illness, Loughner passed the background check required to buy his handgun. Lawmakers must seriously now consider reforms and new legislation that will keep criminals and the mentally incompetent from owning firearms.

Furthermore, the state of the health care system in America needs reform. Mental health is just as important as physical health, but unfortunately, millions of Americans have access to neither, and for those who do, often find that their mental health services are inadequate.
In the rush to meet budgets, many states have cut important funding to health services including mental health services. In Arizona alone, funding for mental health services has been slashed by $36 million - a 37 percent cut from the previous year.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act put into law last year to go into effect over the next four years, and the law that Republicans are currently trying to repeal, goes a long way to improve care for Americans, but it needs to go further.

According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health cited in Reuters, "20 percent of U.S. youths are affected at some point in their lives by serious mental disorders, but only 36 percent of mentally troubled youth get professional services, and 60 percent of them are treated for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder." If proper, adequate mental health care was available in this country, it is reasonable to believe that Loughner would have undergone psychological evaluation and deemed unfit to possess a firearm.

Finally, America needs 21th century gun laws. It is simply offensive for civilized society to allow anyone, sane or insane, a tool specifically designed and manufactured to kill another human being, let alone, multiple human beings. For anyone to argue that the right of individuals to own and carry such instruments of mass destruction should be protected under a law written two hundred years ago in the days of muskets is patently absurd.

Laws serve and protect us well provided that the people understand, as the Founding Fathers understood, that they are amendable, capable of maintaining relevancy and strength by changing as society changes. The right to keep and bear arms as necessary for a well regulated Militia, as written in the Second Amendment, has recently been interpreted by the Conservative majority in the Supreme Court as simply the right for everyone, barring criminals and the incompetent, to keep and bear arms - ignoring the Founding Fathers intent that there be a Military to protect the nation. Favoring a civilian militia over standing armies, and not anticipating the state of the U.S. Military today, the Framers of the Constitution believed arms at the disposal of men would be prudent should they be required to organize and defend the nation from an outside threat.

Understandably, then, given the recent rebellion against imperial Britain, those suspicious of government took the Second Amendment to mean a security against tyranny. However, given two hundred years of democratic law, the implementation and development of the military, police and law enforcement, and the state militia developing into the National Guard, it remains to be seen if high-powered firearms in the hands of bush-league civilians remains necessary for the defense of the nation or becomes a threat to its preservation.

Right-wing militias and Second Amendment fetishists may fantasize about arming themselves against a 'tyrannical government,' but this being a constitutional representative democracy, America is governed by ballots, not bullets; laws, not the tyranny of men. It is delusional to believe first, that our government is any more a tyranny headed by Barack Obama than George W. Bush, and second, that treasonous extremists armed with gun-show weapons can match the firepower of the U.S. military.

But all this should be discussed now. Now is the opportunity to talk about our future; a future where we should not have to worry about more Jared Lee Loughner's. A future where we treat one another with civility, respect and decency.

The reality of gun violence in America was thrown in our faces on that day in Tucson, yet, sadly, there will be those who refuse to see it. The reality of a suffering health care system was exposed then too, but again, there will be those who will choose to ignore it. And even if our noses are rubbed in our own callous, hateful, insensitive bickering and political mud-slinging, there will be those who will refuse to heed the warning of what might come, that another like Loughner, with a deeper, twisted sense of purpose, chooses to vote with bullets.

There will be those who will claim that Tucson was an isolated incident. They will assert that the person who pulled the trigger is the sole person to blame. They will continue to go on as if nothing ever happened and they will reject any appeal to change the sorry situation of what is and has been - Politics is brutal. And America prides itself over citizens having better access to guns than to health care.

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