Sunday, January 9, 2011

The pundits have had a day of it analyzing and examining the shooting in Tucson yesterday. And, until the suspect is arraigned,tried and has an opportunity to testify, we will probably not know what really caused this awful act - if then. It may have been a political act, or an act of terrorism, but I suspect it may turn out to be something else... the act of a mentally ill young man.

In the past 15 years there have been 56 school shootings world-wide, and in the same time period there have been 12 work site shootings that have killed five or more people. Some have recognizable names - Virginia Tech, Columbine, Nickle Mines School - and others are only remembered by those who were directly affected. A few were family-related, a few appeared to be shooting of opportunity and some clearly were revenge for a perceived wrong. We've even coined a term for worksite shootings - "going postal" - from one of the earliest events.

It seems to me, tho, that frequently the shooter is a young man with "issues". The reports today are that the suspect wrote rambling rants on his web site that made no sense; that he interrupted classes at his community college with rambling rants; that he asked questions of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords that made no sense and then was angry because she could not answer him. The Virginia Tech shooter clearly needed mental health care and did not receive adequate attention.

All of which makes me wonder if we have let our community mental health system fall into such disarray that people who need help are not being identified and not receiving the help they need. I would never suggest that we should go back to the huge mental hospitals of the 1950's or that we should slap a diagnosis of mental illness on everyone who is a little different. It does seem, tho, that there are a lot of young folks who need some mental health care and that too often they end up involved in mass shootings. Perhaps using a gun to solve a problem seems more logical if one's reasoning is a bit off.

None of that helps the six people who died yesterday or the 10 who were injured. This incident may have "only" been political, but maybe not. Maybe it could have been prevented with a timely intervention.