Vitriol. It’s a word that’s been used all too often in the wake of the tragic shooting of 20 individuals in Tucson, Ariz.
Much of the coverage about Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who suffered a non-fatal gunshot wound to the head, sadly but unsurprisingly revolved around politicking instead of psychology.
Vitriol may be the defining word of political dialogue in this country, but mental health ought to be the subject of the media frenzy surrounding the shooting.
According to most reports that have come out so far, though the alleged shooter, Jared Loughner, did cite both “The Communist Manifesto” and “Mein Kampf” as inspiring, and clearly distrusted the government, he was not motivated by politics. According to experts, he most likely suffers from a mental illness similar to schizophrenia, just as the Virginia Tech shooter did.
It has yet to be determined whether Loughner ever underwent any psychiatric evaluation. However, the community college he attended suspended him for disturbing behavior in class and required him to undertake an evaluation in order to re-enroll in classes.
According to the Washington Post, Loughner’s actions in community college prompted one of his classmates to say that he was a mentally deranged person who was likely to bring an assault rifle to school and end up on the nightly news.
At one point in class, Loughner suggested strapping a bomb to a fetus.
Despite these warnings, Loughner was able to easily purchase a gun after passing a simple background check he clearly should not have passed. States must do a better job at reporting mental health issues to the federal database of debilitating mental health conditions in order to avoid such bureaucratic loopholes.
Mental health appears to be the crux of this tragedy, but politicians are apt at bending headlines to their political will. Both sides have blamed the other’s policies for the tragedy.
As both parties jockey to take the moral high ground, a town is in mourning. Beset by hundreds of reporters, those who knew the shooter and his victims will have their grieving interrupted by swarming requests for interviews and appearances on “Good Morning America.”
Politicians and journalists will slowly but surely move on to the next tragedy, the next compelling piece of reality to dramatize. In contrast, those impacted by the tragedy will be left to wonder if anything will be done to address the cause of the shooting.
Both parties have and will continue to use the tragedy as a means to further their political agenda, all the while ignoring the fundamental issue at hand: that such a disturbed individual, exhibiting all the warning signs of a mass murderer, fell through the cracks of the school system. A lack of tighter gun control laws certainly played a role in this shooting as well.
Still, the focus shouldn’t be on gun control but rather parents’, teachers’ and the states’ ability to send someone to a mental health institution involuntarily.
As the Arizona state law currently stands, there does not appear to be any way that Loughner could have been forced to seek help because he did not have a violent past.
Even in California, which has very strict gun laws, a teacher could not have forced Loughner to seek treatment and Loughner could have easily acquired a gun in a neighboring state or through illegal means.
I’m not trying to downplay the importance of gun control. I admit that I believe stricter gun control laws can reduce the number of homicides in this country, but it’s equally true that if someone is motivated enough, they will find a way to kill.
The media will continue to fall back on mentions of Sarah Palin to buoy their ratings. Democrats will continue to use the tragedy as a vehicle for tighter gun control laws and Republicans will continue to insist that guns don’t kill people.
But until this country shifts its focus to the root cause of the tragedy, we’ll never be truly safe.
Phillip Zymet is a student at the University of California, Los Angeles.