I have not commented on the horrific incident that happened in Tucson on Saturday because I didn’t have much to say about it, except that it was horrible and it just breaks my heart.  What else can you say about things like that?  Well, apparently you can say a lot of things–things that never even occurred to me because I was so focused on the fact that some bastard had just murdered or injured eighteen people, including a child, that I forgot all about my American duty to speculate about the shooter’s motives and whether or not he may have been inspired by some right-wing political rhetoric.  (Or any political rhetoric.)  When somebody goes on a shooting rampage, I immediately assume the person is mentally disturbed.  That is my charitable assumption.  My less-charitable assumption is that the person is evil.  But I am an American–“mentally disturbed until proven evil” is my motto.

So, yes, I’ve been silent, up until this morning, when I read this piece by David Brooks which pretty much sums up my thoughts on the whole matter.  And I posted it on Facebook because, silly me, I thought the assertion that taking care of schizophrenics will do a lot toward solving the problems of violent schizophrenics going out and shooting people would be relatively uncontroversial.  I try not to be political on the Facebook; it’s really not worth it.  To me this isn’t a political issue, at least not in the left-right/liberal-conservative sense.  A mentally disturbed young man shot and killed a lot of people.  This sort of thing transcends politics.  It’s not about what books he read or what his pet peeves were.  It’s about the fact that he was mentally ill and untreated.  That’s why he got himself a gun and shot people.  Not because of anything Sarah Palin or Rush Limbaugh or Adolph Hitler or Karl Marx or George Orwell said, and not because the gun was just there, ready for the taking–but because he was psychotic.  Sometimes people are.

Of course this turned into a thing, and said thing is still probably going on as I type this, but it just occurred to me that OBL would be totally pissed if she knew I was off talking about crap on the Facebook instead of blogging, and since my unofficial, semi-realistic goal of 2011 is not to piss off OBL, I decided I would just go ahead and blog about this because it turns out there is more to say than, “This is really horrible and breaks my heart.”

Here’s what sucks about mental illness:  it doesn’t make sense, and it’s not fair.  It’s not fair that some people’s brains get sick, and it’s especially unfair–to the afflicted individual and everyone around him or her–when someone’s sick brain tells them to hurt other people.  We want to make it be something else, something more complicated–or maybe simpler–than a sick mind; we want to make it something we can be angry about, instead of just heartbroken.  We want to blame people, not diseases.

I remember when Andrea Yates murdered her five children.  I was obsessed with that story.  I had to know why she did it.  Then I had to know how a woman so deeply disturbed was allowed to be alone with children–or by herself, for that matter.  As it turned out, there was plenty of blaming-of-people to do in that case, but what angered me was when people turned it into a discussion of how stressful it is to be a mother, especially a stay-at-home-mom, especially a homeschooling mom, and how we couldn’t really expect her not to snap under those conditions.  Well, you’ll get no argument from me that Andrea Yates was living under stressful conditions that would make anyone snap, but the thing is, she didn’t just “snap.”  She had a psychotic break and murdered her children–because she was schizophrenic and wasn’t being treated.

Because Andrea Yates used a bathtub and not a gun, no one thought to blame the weapon.  But whenever some mentally-disturbed individual goes on a murder spree with a firearm, the conversation always comes back to gun control.  Okay.  I know I’ve blogged about gun control before, but since I can’t remember when or where that post is (or those posts are), I will have to repeat myself.  It’s not that I’m some gun-loving fanatic.  I don’t own a gun; I don’t anticipate ever owning a gun; more to the point, I don’t anticipate ever needing to own a gun.  I’ve met some gun laws that I liked.  These are deadly weapons, after all, so I should think some regulations are in order.  My position on gun control, which has always been my position on gun control–from the time I was a pinko-bleeding-heart liberal to my current stint as a right-wing hatemonger–is that it doesn’t do what its advocates want it to do; more to the point, it can’t do what its advocates want it to do, which is to significantly reduce the number of people who murder each other.  The thing about murderers–about all criminals, really–is that they really aren’t too keen on following the law in the first place.  Once you start seriously thinking you’re going to murder somebody, your respect for the rule of law is reduced to the point where it’s really not worth quantifying.  No one with murder in his heart starts formulating a plan and gets frustrated by his inability to buy a gun legally and therefore gives up on his homicidal tendencies.  Yes, some murderers get their guns legally; but if they can’t get them legally, they get them illegally.  That’s how murderers roll.  If they want to use a gun, they’ll get one and not be too hung up on filing their paperwork correctly.

Now, just because murderers can get their guns illegally anyway doesn’t mean that there’s no point regulating guns and they should just be readily available to any old person and sold in vending machines on the street or come as free gift when you open a checking account or buy a gym membership.  Obviously, a civilized country needs rules about purchasing guns, and those rules need to be enforced.  What the rules should be we could argue about all day long, and we may or may not agree on much, but I don’t want to have a discussion on the finer points of gun legislation.  Not at the moment, I mean.  Because at the moment I’m pre-occupied with this story about a mentally disturbed individual who murdered people.  It’s true that if he hadn’t been able to buy a gun, he wouldn’t have been able to shoot people.  But he did get a gun, and he did shoot people–because he was mentally ill and not receiving treatment.

If he hadn’t been able to buy a gun, do you think he would have said, “Oh, well, guess there’s nothing I can do”?  Do you think he wouldn’t have found some other way to kill people?  Maybe not those particular people he killed on Saturday, but this person was a time bomb, if you’ll pardon the expression, waiting to go off; he wanted to inflict damage, and he was going to do it because he was mentally ill and not receiving treatment.  That’s the first cause here.  If Andrea Yates can inspire a discussion about the dangers of homeschooling, can’t this person inspire a discussion about how to recognize mental illness and make it easier for people to get treatment and easier for relatives–and the state, when necessary–to force people to get treatment when they present a danger to themselves or others?

As for the tone of our current political discourse, everyone needs to get a grip and understand that it is no more uncivil than it’s ever been.  If you knew what politicians in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries used to say about each other, oh, my dears, you would be scandalized.  Let’s flash back to 1998, when Bill Clinton was being impeached and Alec Baldwin goes on some late-night talk show (I want to say Conan O’Brien’s, but I don’t really remember) and said that if we were in another country we’d stone Henry Hyde to death and kill his wife and children for what he was doing to the country.  Now, was that appropriate?  Hint:  it’s a rhetorical question.  Was there any violence perpetrated against Henry Hyde or his family?  Fortunately, no.  Did Alec Baldwin really mean that we should kill Henry Hyde and his family?  I very much doubt it.  But if someone had assassinated Henry Hyde, would Alec Baldwin have been responsible?  One could argue for some measure of culpability, I suppose, but ultimately the answer is that anyone who takes their citizenship tips from an apoplectic Alec Baldwin on the Conan O’Brien show is a mentally disturbed individual and/or evil, and that is a problem in and of itself.  Alec Baldwin is another story.  Probably a whole other blog, but anyway, I don’t have time.

My point is that until an otherwise sane pillar of the community goes on a killing spree and says, “Well, Sarah Palin said we should target this person for defeat,” or “Rush Limbaugh said we need to get this person out of the Congress,” color me skeptical on the notion that our political discourse has just gotten out of hand to the point that it’s inciting violence.  We live in a violent country.  Most of the violence–the vast majority of it–is not politically motivated in any way.  And all I want to say about Jared Lee Loughner is that his political leanings are irrelevant because his politics were incoherent–because he was mentally disturbed and probably psychotic.  Sometimes people are.  And we don’t take their treatment seriously enough.  There’s certainly a whole other blog to be written on that topic, but not today.  For now, I’m done.