On Jan. 8, Jared Loughner opened fire in Tucson, Arizona at a local grocery store where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was doing a meet and greet with the Tucson locals. Loughner killed six people and wounded 13, including Giffords, who is still in serious condition at an area hospital. Loughner, who has a history of mental instability and violent tendencies, has harbored feelings of animosity toward Giffords for a few years. His focus on the congresswoman began in 2007 when he attended one of her events to ask a question; however, he was unsatisfied with her answer and from that moment on, his distrust of her and the government grew until it finally culminated in the shooting.
In 2008, Loughner began to spiral out of control. He was rejected from the army, talked freely about suicide bombers during his poetry class and got into disturbing arguments with his professors. Loughner was also fired from several minimum wage jobs including Red Robin, Quiznos and Peter Piper.
Most disturbing of all was the video he created about his college where he wandered the campus, talking about how his rights had been infringed. After this video was posted on YouTube, Loughner was asked to withdraw from the school.
So, keeping that in mind, should the focus be on increased protection for government officials and stricter gun laws or should it be on the prevention and treatment of mental illness? Based on all that I have read, I would say that the lesson this horrifying story should teach is that mental illness is a serious problem that needs more attention. According to the Orlando Sentinel, “… the haunting question for authorities and those close to Loughner is whether something could have been done to head off the tragedy… Loughner never received professional help.” After the initial shock wore off, former Governor Sarah Palin used the term “blood libel” to refer to the journalists and politicians who have implied that conservative political figures such as herself are to be blamed for what happened in Tucson.
After this statement, there was an influx of opinions both from other government officials and from laypeople. However, this was not the appropriate area on which the public should have focused its attention.
The more important issue at hand is that in the future, when there are other people who display the warning signs Loughner showed, will someone intervene and get that person the necessary treatment?
Thankfully, once the blood libel nonsense died down, the news shifted gears to focus on recognizing and treating mental illness. Tucson was a disturbing tragedy that could have been prevented if someone had acknowledged Loughner’s disease back in 2007. Hopefully there is enough awareness now both in the public and in the government that an illness like his will never go untreated again and no more blood will have to be shed.