Thursday, January 13, 2011

Can a Crazed Gunman Take Our Freedom?

We haven’t seen quite so clear a picture of insanity as the mug shot of Jared Loughner. His wild eyes and gleeful grin leave little doubt that his world hardly resembles our own.

What’s to stop such a young man from running up and shooting a Congresswoman? In a free society, what’s to stop him killing a judge, and a little girl, elderly people, a church volunteer, and a Congressional Aide?

He seems to have taken a cross-section of us. He tried to kill our peaceful, democratic way of life.

Ever see the movie, “Minority Report” with Tom Cruise? Directed by Stephen Spielberg, it’s a futuristic story in which pre-cognitive slaves, “pre-cogs,” can predict impending murders and when they do, crime stoppers dash out and arrest the murderers before they kill. The murder rate has dropped to zero in Washington D.C. in the movie.

Of course there’s a flaw that takes the whole thing down (sorry to be a spoiler). The inventor of the system is corrupt and kills the one person who can expose the flaw. He uses the flaw itself to cover up his own crime.

Wouldn’t it be great though, if we could know with some certainty that the keg was about to blow? If we only knew in advance, we would do something. We would have somehow contained that deranged young man in Tucson. We would have saved lives, and anguish, and pain everlasting.

Yet people did know. Like the pre-cogs, they saw in advance that he was dangerous. His friends saw him change over time, isolating himself in thought and action. Neighbors witnessed him shouting at no one.

One employer took measures not just to fire him, but to ensure he did not return to that place of business without a contract to follow safety rules he had repeatedly violated, endangering animals.

Community college administrators required assurances from a mental health professional before he would be allowed back on campus. One of his college classmates told her friends that he’d be on TV someday for having brought a gun to school and killing his peers.

Only his parents claim not to have noticed anything amiss. The macabre shrine to death he built in their own backyard insufficient to warrant a second thought.

But it’s not 2054, and even with the pointed concerns noted above, we cannot jail or commit a person for what he might do. When we recognize the makings of distress headed for paranoia, barreling toward madness and even violence, we do what we can for ourselves and that person, and wait. The psychological help Loughner needed offers no guarantee of safety for us.

It reminds me of the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center. As the nation reeled and authorities from varied agencies began to piece together the scenario, we learned the sequence of seemingly unrelated events that led to the horror of September 11, 2001. A phrase emerged, “connect the dots.”

In efforts to prevent such heinous acts from recurring, laws and standards of practice evolved permitting and even requiring diverse and previously secretive, self-protective organizations to share information. Some of these practices may have averted, if narrowly, attempts at further terrorism.

Still, I don’t know that we would stand for the civilian equivalent. How could it work? In order to connect the dots of a young man's deranged behavior we would need to become mandated reporters, like school personnel are regarding suspected child abuse.

If that neighbor, that employer, that administrator, that classmate, and that friend had each been required to report their very real concerns…to whom? A central collection agency that monitors weird behavior?

Might as well name it Big Brother and give it stockpiles of mood elevators to force upon anyone whose behavior strays sufficiently out of the mainstream to garner attention. It doesn’t take a conspiracy buff to see the flaws - the violation of privacy, potential for false and malicious reports, and corrupt administration.

I don’t think it would hurt to reinstitute the lapsed controls on such weapons as Loughner used. But even this is pitiful. I’m just grasping. Based on emotion, such action would only meet our human need to do something in the face of misery.

We all know that somehow the worst of us would still obtain the weapons and use them against the best of us, as Loughner did.

And so, again, we face a harsh consequence of our beloved free society and endure the helplessness of grief.