Last Saturday Jared Lee Loughner alleged shot and killed six people and injured another fourteen at public event hosted by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). Since that time some have claimed that Loughner’s behavior was caused, at least in part, by the heated political of the past two years. Others have essentially argued that Loughner was a “nutjob” or “a crazed lone wolf”, that society had no control over. Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck both argued that Loughner was simply insane, and that this fact should be the end of the story in attributing blame for the shootings. While there does exist substantial evidence that Loughner suffered from some kind of mental disorder, the “Loughner was crazy” argument still fails on a number of grounds.
[Slideshow: The nation remembers the lives of the victims of the Arizona shootings]
First, the “he was a nutjob” argument is simply too black and white. Nearly every mental health professional agrees that there is no such thing as “crazy” and “not crazy.” Instead, there are varying levels of mental illness. Insanity is ultimately about behavior which is irrational or abnormal. Everyone, if they are honest with themselves, will admit to suffering from some level of insanity at various times in their life. Some people who suffer from mental disorders need to be confined to a facility, but the vast majority lead fairly normal lives with treatment. People who suffer from mental disorder can often still tell the difference between right and wrong. People with mental disorders can still be influenced by political rhetoric. Even if Lougner as, for example diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, there is a good chance a court will stay he can be held accountable for his actions last Saturday.
Secondly, the “he was crazy” ignores the impact of the environment on mental illness. Many mental disorders are influenced by genetics, but the environment also plays a role in the development of many mental disorders. If Loughner was insane, it does not mean that he was born that way and destined to shoot twenty people. The environment around him may have caused his mental disorder to develop more severely, or otherwise inspired him to act so irrationally. Is it a coincidence that many of the mass gunmen in our country latch on to the strangest of conspiracy theories which are dismissed by the vast majority of the public? The insanity of these people may cause them to believe these theories, but it is also possible that these theories may feed their mental disorder. What they would otherwise dismiss as unreasonable paranoia may all the sudden become very reasonable when they hear something that sound like their worst fears broadcast on television or radio.
Third, the “Lougner was insane” argument is simply too easy and not supported by the facts. Could we not dismiss every mass shooter as “insane” and, therefore, excuse the larger society for blame? It is easy to say that anyone capable of such evil is just “crazy”, and so to make them less like us and do away with the horror. However, the fact is that mass shootings are more common in America than many other countries. Mass shooting are also more common in modern America (since 1966) than in previous times. If insanity was truly the cause of these shootings, and insanity was caused by genetics, would it not be the case that these shootings would occur on a proportional basis all over the world. We can excuse ourselves, and doom the country to more incident of “horrific insanity”, or we can begin to acknowledge that there is something about modern America which creates more Loughners, and attempt to do something about it.
[See also: A legal analysis of a possible insanity defense for Jared Lee Loughner]