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What motivated Arizona killer Jared Loughner? It wasn’t politics

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

What happened in Arizona was a horrific act committed by a sick individual. But as someone who has worked in the mental health field for 22 years, I can tell you: What is even more disgusting is how many people have been politicizing this senseless horror.

I admit I tend to be drawn to stories like these: Even with all that we know about the brain, the human mind is still so complex and mysterious. Turning to the Internet, I expected to see outpourings of grief, expressions of shock, prayers of hope for the dead, the wounded, and their loved ones. Yet although there were encouraging words for the recovery of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the others who are struggling to survive, much less recover, there was an absurd amount of political back-and-forth.

Regina DeMarco Gaffney


And many of those commenting sounded pretty friggin’ scary themselves.

Jared Loughner is crazy, OK? Cuckoo. Loony. Wacko. Nut job (Choose your descriptive).

But before the politically-correct mob gets on me about my use of these terms, get over yourselves. I have worked with the severely and persistently mentally ill for my entire career and absolutely love what I do. And I’ve seen many of them at their worst: The people who suffer from chronic mental illnesses endure hell on earth. Being threatened and/or
assaulted is the nature of the beast if you’re in this field.

If it makes you feel better for me to call him psychiatrically disabled or as having mental health issues, then so be it. But then you’re missing the bigger picture.

The story here isn’t Loughner’s political leanings, or whether those fighting for elected office are deliberately painting targets on their opponents’ backs. Shame on those who are interpreting this as anything but the work of one seriously sick dude.

Even if every politician, of whatever stripe, never used the words “crosshairs”, “target,” or “battlefield,” this guy still would have snapped. Even if tighter gun control laws were in place, he still would have found a way. Even if all members of Congress had 24/7 personal security, that time bomb still would have exploded.

This guy was gonna blow, no matter what measures were put into place.

I’m not going to presume to diagnose Loughner long distance, even though it’s all fairly clear even to armchair psychiatrists: He’s been preoccupied with Congresswoman Giffords since at least 2007; he has fixed delusions about grammar and about our nation’s currency; he‘s been seen clenching his fists and laughing to himself. Being in touch with reality doesn’t seem to have occurred to him in quite some time, especially when you hear about former college classmates he freaked out.

As the noted sociologist Gavin de Becker once wrote in his 1997 best-seller, “The Gift of Fear”: Those who say they’re surprised when someone does something like this probably haven’t taken long enough to consider the person they’re talking about. There is often an “inherent predictability of violence” that people either miss — or, in most cases, choose not to see, he said.

I suspect Loughner will be found either incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity, then be committed to a hospital and released sooner than if he’d been sentenced to prison. And while I believe Loughner should receive all of the treatment that he needs, I insist as a citizen that he be held accountable for his actions. I trust in our judicial system to make the right choices.

At the end of the day, you can be sure that system won’t give a damn that his favorite readings included “The Communist Manifesto” or that his target was a Blue Dog Democrat. They won’t be hurling invective at people’s choices of mental illness adjectives or political fightin‘ words.

How about we show some justice of our own, straight from our hearts? What if we start by concentrating on the agonizing heartache that the loved ones of the dead and injured are experiencing — not whether Sarah Palin’s minions pressed this guy’s “SNAP” button?

What if we look at a picture of that beautiful 9-year-old girl he murdered and hold our own young ones a little tighter?

What about the victims who aren’t getting as attention because they’re not a child, a Congresswoman, or a judge? Can we say prayers for them, too?

And after that, if there’s still room left, what if we all express how grateful we are for those brave enough to stop Loughner, at the risk of their own lives, as well as the angels who tended to the dying and the injured?

How about, just this once, we got our priorities straight?

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