Tucson tragedy aftermath: time for a sensible public policy debate

The mass murder of innocents in Tucson last weekend and the attempted murder of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a rising political star, is a horrific and terrible tragedy. Sadly, we have faced other incidents like this, including the mass murder at Virginia Tech, the Columbine massacre, the Ft. Hood terrorist attack, and others.

Now, once again, we are seeing politicians and pundits attempting to exploit this tragedy for their own political ends. Most disgusting is the Democratic Media’s attempt to blame this on conservatives, when the alleged killer has been described by those who know him as a left-wing, pot-smoking atheist who believes the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were actually perpetrated by the U.S. government under George W. Bush. He sounds more like a delegate to the Democratic National Convention than a charter subscriber to the Limbaugh Letter.

But putting that aside, the slaughter in Tucson raises important public policy issues that warrant serious discussion and debate among grownups. Here are a few items we should be discussing:

First, some honesty and humility would be nice: a simple admission that not every problem in the world has a legislative remedy. A hate-filled or deranged individual can do a lot of damage if he so chooses. We can reduce, but not eliminate, such acts of barbarism. Let’s see lawmakers admit that.

Next, there is clearly a mental health issue at play in many of these barbaric crimes. (This is not to say he can sustain his forthcoming insanity defense [his mug shot is part of this legal strategy]; you can be legally responsible and still mentally unstable, and I see nothing yet in this case that should keep the defendant from facing the death penalty, as he should, if convicted.) In this attack as in the one at Virginia Tech, we see how dangerous mental illness can be in some cases, absent effective treatment. This is at least a two-part problem, and both need attention.

From a legislative standpoint, a useful response to the carnage in Tucson could include increasing research on mental illness. The National Institutes of Health has been well-funded in recent years but the future is less certain, given that our nation is broke. Medical research into mental illnesses can lead to better treatments for the tens of millions battling mental health issues, while also making extreme cases like this less common down the road. (Disclosure: I have family and friends who work at NIH.)

The other element of this is difficult and possibly unwise to legislate, but still important to discuss and debate as a nation. In both the Virginia Tech and Tucson killings, people around the (alleged) perpetrators had clear and strong signs, in advance, and had even voiced concerns, about the potential for violence of these men. But where was the medical intervention? Family members and friends of clearly disturbed people have a moral responsibility to try to get that person into treatment, and to stick with it, as hard as it is to do (especially if the person is a legal adult).

A woman, after sitting in a single math class with the Tucson defendant, reportedly suggested in an email that he might one day be violent with an automatic weapon. She was not alone in her assessment. (There are conflicting reports about whether the first Walmart salesperson blocked the defendant in some way from purchasing ammunition shortly before the attack.) If casual observers knew it, where were the parents, relatives and friends? Did they do everything they could to get him professional help? Let’s see some Congressional hearings on that.

Involuntary commitment of adults is a thorny issue. When you see homeless people with clear mental health issues outside on frigid nights, you wonder if our belief in complete personal autonomy should have limits. The Tucson killings and Virginia Tech attack reinforce that quandary. Let’s have public dialogue about the procedures surrounding involuntary commitment. No, not a law slapped together for headlines, but sober discussion among experts and the public at large about how the system might be tweaked to protect individual liberty while also getting people help when they are too ill to seek it voluntarily.

Personal responsibility. It’s not a minor point to note that an individual murdered and injured these victims. It is always stunning to see people blame everyone but the actual criminal for his monstrous crimes. Evil exists, people. Recognize it, and hold evil-doers accountable.

Van Jones and other 9/11 liars are not responsible for the Tucson massacre, even though the defendant is one of them. Drug legalization proponents like George Soros and the billionaire behind the University of Phoenix are not responsible for the killings, even though they have funded pro-marijuana propositions in Arizona and the defendant has been described as a “pothead.” Nor should all atheists, or all left-wingers be smeared just because the alleged mass murderer is one of them. America needs a return to personal responsibility in many areas. Let it begin in recognizing that the killer is responsible for his actions, not society.

Who should be able to get guns? Conservatives (myself included) like to note in discussing the war on terror, that the Constitution is not a suicide pact. We need to heed that advice ourselves. The second amendment deserves a robust interpretation, just like the first amendment and rest of the document. But how “crazy” does one have to be before we might fairly limit one’s access to weapons? (By the way, if Walmart had refused to sell the alleged killer ammunition because he seemed mentally unstable, could the company have been sued for discrimination?)

Many of us are understandably leery of any restrictions on gun ownership by law-abiding citizens, because we know and have seen how the anti-gun Left uses every opportunity to try to eviscerate the second amendment. Yet waiting for a deranged individual to commit a first felony before we remove his guns is sometimes too late, with deadly consequences. Bright people who support gun ownership should be able to craft legislative language that gives full voice to our second amendment rights while also protecting us from dangerous people who have not yet been convicted of violent felonies. Better documentation of a person’s multiple run-ins with law enforcement, as Loughner seems to have had, may be one fruitful area to consider.

Enforce the death penalty. While we don’t yet know the defendant’s entire plan for that day (did he ‘allegedly’ plan to kill himself with the last bullet in that second clip?), the alleged Tucson killer resisted his capture and has not yet tried to kill himself in custody. In short, indications are he wants to live. It’s the same with the vast majority of murderers. They want others dead, not themselves.

That is part of why it is such a tragedy that the Left is in a ceaseless, multi-pronged, nationwide, Soros-funded attack on the death penalty and its effective enforcement. Conservatives need to get off the sidelines and engage this debate. A death penalty option for juries, enforced after appeals but not decades-long delays, would save lives. Would it have deterred this alleged killer? Who knows. But the death penalty saves innocent life and the Tucson massacre is a reminder why we need it as an option.

Congressional security. We simply cannot tolerate lawmakers (or judges) being targeted for violence, or facing threats of violence, in America. So we need to spend what it takes to give them security not just in Washington, DC, but across the country. Fortunately, crimes like this against our lawmakers are rare.

Unfortunately, the lives of Congresspeople were too remote from the experiences of average Americans, even before this latest tragedy. Erecting additional barriers between lawmakers and the public will make this problem worse.

That said, our lawmakers need to be safe. Perhaps a much-publicized security program modeled on the undercover Air Marshal system for commercial flights would work best, supplemented by uniformed officers as needed. That way, potential offenders would know that armed law enforcement might be present, even if not visible to them at a Congressional event. Who knows? It might even protect people at Town Hall meetings from being beaten up by union thugs.

Gun control? It is perfectly legitimate for proponents of gun control to make their case in part by citing this horrific crime. Similarly, it is perfectly legitimate for supporters of the second amendment, like me, to note that the Virginia Tech massacre was so deadly – 32 killed – in part because the killer knew that he was targeting a gun-free zone, where he was the only one armed and everyone else would be defenseless, sitting ducks. Taking guns away from the law-abiding is not the answer, but by all means, let’s have that debate.

Heroism lives. Finally, let’s not forget that the Tucson tragedy, while hitting an already-beleaguered nation, did show us hints about why our nation will recover from what ails us. Those heroes on the scene who reacted with courage and quick-thinking to subdue the alleged killer and begin medical treatment for the injured; the expert medical team that treated the victims at the Trauma Center; the armed man who ran toward, rather than away from, the sound of gunfire; and others, have shown us that for every evil lunatic, there are many more brave and selfless men and women willing to risk all for colleagues, neighbors and total strangers. And it didn’t take an Act of Congress to call these heroes to action.

The writer, a former Congressional staffer for an Arizona Republican, wonders what Obama pal and tenured terrorist Bill Ayers thinks about the Tucson massacre.

[Cross-posted at TL4A.com.]