Monday, January 17, 2011

Thoughts on Tucson

This isn't an education story, per se. But it's too important to ignore.

The education angle to the recent tragedy in Tucson, Arizona is the fact that the apparent shooter recently attended a local community college. While I think it is unfair to hold Pima Community College responsible for Jared Loughner, this New York Times article and Sunday's Washington Post editorial does raise some smart questions about what could have been done differently, most notably having sought an involuntary mental evaluation of the suspect. Hindsight, of course, is 20/20.

Currently, too much of the public conversation about Tucson is about culpability and about the role of political discourse in fueling the violence. Those are possibly irrelevant or overly simplistic conversations. It is unclear if political discourse had much bearing on Loughner's decision to do what he did. Sunday's New York Times story suggests that his twisted belief that "women should not be allowed to hold positions of power or authority" may have been a crucial factor. Clearly, the accused shooter is responsible (although our justice system will make the official determination of guilt). Is anyone else? His parents? Institutions like his former community college? What about the state of Arizona for having gun laws on the books that allowed Loughner to legally purchase his weapon and ammunition? Fundamentally, taken to it logical end, the finger points directly at the collective 'us'. We have elected leaders who have shaped our current gun laws.

And that's the tougher conversation that no one in power seems to want to have: Our current laws on access to firearms are senseless and extreme when compared to other nations. Semiautomatic weapons (such as the one used by Loughner in this tragedy) and extended magazines have no legitimate place in civil society. Why could someone like Loughner legally purchase a Glock semiautomatic handgun and an extended magazine? Why should anyone be able to for that matter?

Nicholas Kristof recent op-ed in the New York Times (Why Not Regulate Guns As Seriously As Toys?) raised some pointed questions in this regard.
Jared Loughner was considered too mentally unstable to attend community college. He was rejected by the Army. Yet buy a Glock handgun and a 33-round magazine? No problem.
A few suggestions he offered:
[B]an oversize magazines, such as the 33-bullet magazine allegedly used in Tucson. If the shooter had had to reload after firing 10 bullets, he might have been tackled earlier.
We can also learn from Australia, which in 1996 banned assault weapons... [T]he Journal of Public Health Policy notes that after the ban, the firearm suicide rate dropped by half in Australia over the next seven years, and the firearm homicide rate was almost halved.
Where are our political leaders on gun control? No where to be found. They're all still playing duck 'n' cover with the National Rifle Association. Even, in Arizona, they say this incident doesn't change anything. Guns don't kill people. People kill people. Of course. [UPDATE: Some lawmakers even want to make the state's gun laws even more lax. Apparently, it isn't enough that Arizona is already one of only three U.S. states that allows residents to carry concealed weapons without training or even a background check.]

Frank Rich hits several nails on their heads in Sunday's New York Times. I'll let his words speak for themselves:
Of the many truths in President Obama’s powerful Tucson speech, none was more indisputable than his statement that no one can know what is in a killer’s mind. So why have we spent so much time debating exactly that?

The answer is classic American denial. It was easier to endlessly parse Jared Lee Loughner’s lunatic library — did he favor “The Communist Manifesto” or Ayn Rand? — than confront the larger and harsher snapshot of our current landscape that emerged after his massacre....

Let’s also face another tragedy: The only two civic reforms that might have actually stopped him — tighter gun control and an effective mental health safety net — won’t materialize even now.

No editorial — or bloodbath — will move Congress to enact serious gun control (which Giffords herself never advocated and Obama has rarely pushed since 2008). Enhanced mental health coverage is also a nonstarter when the highest G.O.P. priority is to repeal the federal expansion of health care. In Arizona, cutbacks are already so severe that terminally ill patients are being denied life-saving organ transplants.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and their families. Here's hoping that some good can come as a result of this tragedy, but I'm not overly optimistic.

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