“No! I won’t pay debt with a currency that’s not backed by gold and silver! No! I won’t trust in God!” – Jared Lee Loughner
You know what we want?
We want Jared Lee Loughner to be mentally ill.
For those who might have been hiding under a baobab tree for the last three days, Jared, a college student in Tuscon, open fired in a Safeway supermarket, killing six (including a little girl and a federal judge), and injuring 14 (including Democrat Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who at this moment is clinging to life after surviving a bullet through the head).
Gone are the days when we had to wait for the next day’s newspaper, or even for the evening news. Within minutes of the shooting, the Internet lit up with pieces of a puzzle that may never be completely finished.
Was Jared strange? Did he have problems relating to people? Of this there can be no doubt. Campus police had been called five times to address concerns about Jared’s behavior, including one time when a teacher felt threatened by Jared’s reaction to failing an assignment.
He’d been having angry outbursts in class, talking in nonsense sentences, and becoming more and more immersed in government conspiracy theories. A classmate told Fox News, “A lot of people didn’t feel safe around him.”
Nevertheless, Jared obtained a gun – a Glock 19 handgun, to be exact.
Armchair psychologists around the country snapped to attention. Within a few hours of the shooting, the media was tossing the term “paranoid schizophrenia” around, even though no one knows – even now – whether Jared has any sort of diagnosis at all. The failure of the “mental health system” was blamed. TIME Magazine printed six “warning signs of mental illness” that had been ignored, allowing the tragedy to happen.
Jared smirked for the cops, and his mom and dad cried and expressed shock and grief in front of the TV cameras. Neighbors said no one knew the family very well, but it was reported that his dad drank a lot of beer and was quick to anger. Jared was said to have been a loner, a bit of an outcast, and a pothead who wore his hood up even in the hot summer.
So yes, it appears that Jared may have a screw loose. But is he “mentally ill?” Did he have no idea what he was doing, even though investigators found a note in his room that said, “I planned ahead?”
This is a case with a little bit of everything. Jared is said to be prone to “right-wing rants.” Was this about politics? Or was it about the pot? Or was it about his parents?
Come on, come on! There has to be a reason.
Through the decades, there have been killers that turned out to be demonstrably mentally ill. And because the entire point of news is to inform people of significant events, we tend to hear – and remember – more about those individuals.
But here’s the truth – if you know someone with schizophrenia, the chances of him being a violent killer are about the same as if you knew someone with blue shoes, or a wheelbarrow, or a Springer spaniel. (The chances of someone leaving your neighborhood bar being violent are a great deal higher.)
As Slate Magazine explained it:
Your chance of being murdered by a stranger with schizophrenia is so vanishingly small that a recent study of four Western countries put the figure at one in 14.3 million. To put it in perspective, statistics show you are about three times more likely to be killed by a lightning strike.
Why do we want Jared to be mentally ill? Why are we waiting so eagerly to hear the words, “Jared Lee Loughner is a paranoid schizophrenic?”
Because we’ll feel so relieved if he’s “different” somehow. Because then we can say, “Oh, it’s because of that,” and close the book.
Because we want “him” not to be “us.”