The Daily Caller‘s Chris Moody has rounded up Washington’s five most ridiculous responses to the Tucson shooting. Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) wants to put Plexiglass all around the House gallery. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) is going to introduce a bill that would ban guns within 1000 feet of members of Congress. Rep. Robert Brady (D-PA) wants to outlaw threatening lawmakers with symbols (such as crosshairs). Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) has pushed for the reintroduction of the Fairness Doctrine. And David Frum, not a congressman but still very much a Washingtonian, has advocated tougher drug laws to guard against “pot smoking loners” like Jared Lee Loughner. Of course none of these bills would address any real problem, as Andrew Cline details on the main page.
One response left off Moody’s list is the only one I’ve seen that addresses what seems to be the specific problem with Loughner, namely schizophrenia. In today’s Wall Street Journal Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, author of The Insanity Offense: How America’s Failure to Treat the Seriously Mentally Ill Endangers Its Citizens, suggests that Loughner suffers from schizophrenia and that Tucson-type tragedies are “the inevitable outcome of five decades of failed mental-health policies.” Torrey concludes:
The solution to this situation is obvious-make sure individuals with serious mental illnesses are receiving treatment. The mistake was not in emptying the nation’s hospitals but rather in ignoring the treatment needs of the patients being released. Many such patients will take medication voluntarily if it is made available to them. Others are unaware they are sick and should be required by law to receive assisted outpatient treatment, including medication and counseling, as is the case in New York under Kendra’s Law. If they do not comply with the court-ordered treatment plan, they can and should be involuntarily admitted to a hospital [emphasis added].
And in The New Republic, William Galston begins a similar argument with the warning that “[t]his article will make civil libertarians unhappy.”
The story repeats itself, over and over. A single narrative connects the Unabomber, George Wallace shooter Arthur Bremmer, Reagan shooter John Hinckley, the Virginia Tech shooter-all mentally disturbed loners who needed to be committed and treated against their will. But the law would not permit it.
A delusional loss of contact with reality should be enough to trigger a process that starts with multiple offers of voluntary assistance and ends with involuntary treatment, including commitment if necessary. How many more mass murders and assassinations do we need before we understand that the rights-based hyper-individualism of our laws governing mental illness is endangering the security of our community and the functioning of our democracy? [Emphasis added.]
But Reason‘s Jacob Sullum is already pushing back against the calls for increasing involuntary commitment:
Even worse is a legal regime that imprisons eccentrics on the off chance that they will commit murder someday. …University of Maryland political scientist William Galston said civil commitment rules should be changed to “shift the balance in favor of protecting the community.” Such a shift inevitably would mean locking up more people who pose no real threat to others.
I suspect that an examination of the numbers would weaken Torrey’s case: there are probably more schizoprhenia-influenced killings today than in the ’60s simply because there are more people than in the ’60s. And Galston’s case that many recent high-profile killings by “disturbed loners” could have been prevented doesn’t address the fact that many different people in Loughner’s life had plenty of actionable warnings, including apparently the sheriff, and yet no one took any of the steps that would precede involuntary commitment.
Increasing involuntary commitment is the only response that addresses the root problem in the case of the Loughner killings, but there are still reasons to be extremely skeptical.
Updated to add link to Andrew Cline’s piece.