Thursday, January 13, 2011
The Tucson, Arizona Shooting 2011: The Interaction of Mental Health Problems and the Language of the Gun
Bernard E. Harcourt
David Brooks and some of the letter writers capture the reaction to this tragic incident well with their sentiment that “the political opportunism occasioned by this tragedy has ranged from the completely irrelevant to the shamelessly irresponsible.” Looking ahead and more calmly, it will be important to think about several dimensions of the tragedy, including first the provision of mental health care post-deinstitutionalization, second the regulation of dangerous weapons, third the nature of political discourse and political resistance, and fourth our intense culture and love of guns in this country. These factors interact, and it is important to understand how, exactly. Mental health problems interact with our culture of guns in such a way as to produce these exceptional killings. In the Southwest, in a city like Tucson, there is what I would call a “language of the gun” that has become the very way in which many individuals express themselves, their identities, their desires, their difficulties, and their emotions, including rage. It is, in my opinion, unlikely that we will be able to properly address the issues of mental health provision or regulate guns more effectively unless and until we come to grips with the lust for guns that permeates so much of our culture.
I'm unable to make any broad statement about the lust for guns among young men enmeshed in gang culture and the wider love of guns in the culture.
Myself I owned a 22 rifle and shotgun for several years when living in the rural Midwest for a bit of hunting or target shooting but otherwise they were never in my life.
I know the drew of the love of things mechanical and I think guns fit into that category. I love motorcycling but the doing more than the things themselves but still like to look at pictures of them. I don't ride Harley's however which is where one finds a virtual fetishism.
For many guns become akin to a fetish. Others develop a strong relation to cars, bicycles, typewriters, trains or other mechanical products of the industrial age. Next to cars however gun love is certainly number one and almost certainly the one which carries the most emotional weight.
I know this sounds odd but creating a widespread understanding that this sort of love of mechanical things is a fetish or sort of idolatry could blunt much of the power these objects come to hold over people. Ways which are damaging.
i am more drawn by the statement re: "you feel powerful when you have a gun. you get respect". more than anything else, the seductive lure of apparent power and the false sense of "respect" that comes with such power, without ever really doing anything to deserve respect is what powers the lust for guns in the youth community mr. harcourt describes. i cannot imagine anything that will substitute for the lust for guns, power and "respect" until that mindset is debunked entirely from our youth.
with my apologies, at the risk of starting something that i am sure mr. harcourt did not intend when he posted this very interesting item, i cannot see the culture changing until certain constituencies and special interests read a certain level of common sense and responsibility into the second amendment's right to bear arms.
You may find interesting this comment I put up earlier today on Sandy Levinson's post:
"Off topic again, How Appealing* provides a link to Garrett Epps' The Atlantic article 'How Will Loughner's Gunshots Echo in the Supreme Court's Quiet Halls?' with references to Heller and McCarthy v. Chicago. No specific mention is made of Justice Scalia's dicta in Heller about possible limitations on Second Amendment rights but I'm sure that Scalia is thankful that he included his dicta that has been pointed out to have flaws from the perspectives of both originalism and history. Let's hear from the Second Amendment absolutists!
*Bashman provides a great legal website."
thanks for the link, shag.
i would not hold my breath waiting for a revelatory moment from the court. after all, heller and mcdonald were both decided after columbine and any other number of mass shootings around the country and the globe for that matter. one would have thought that a single such incident would be enough for a little sobering reflection, but apparently not.
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Why not hope "for a revelatory moment from the court" concerning institutionalization of the mentally ill, instead? For all that you find people liking guns offensive, millions manage to own them, and like them, without going on murderous rampages. The relevant variable here was mental illness, not liking guns.
We can go after violent loons, or treat everybody as though they were a violent loon. I, for one, find the latter approach offensive.
And I think if we're going to go around diagnosing people's attitudes towards guns, we have to start talking about why a distinct segment of the population is so irrationally hostile to them...
Brett defines his own irrationality with this:
" And I think if we're going to go around diagnosing people's attitudes towards guns, we have to start talking about why a distinct segment of the population is so irrationally hostile to them..."
Is it irrational to be fearful in a public place, say a theatre, Congress, public transit, mall, walking in the street, that someone (maybe same, maybe insane) may discharge a concealed carry gun capable of firing 30 shots in just seconds? And it is not a matter of being "hostile." Rather the concern is with the potentially "hostile" concealed carrier whose motives for carrying may not be clear to us (or him/herself), even if we knew he/she were carrying, leading to a "mine's bigger than yours" mentality. How many guns does Brett need to feel secure?
people are not necessarily hostile to guns. i have nothing against gun ownership at all. i own a couple myself. i am against completely irrational attitudes that allow for unchecked ownership of weapons by persons who have no business possessing such dangerous instrumentalities and allowing them to be carried unchecked into environments where they clearly do not belong. do you really want people carrying guns into bars? i am against the sale and distribution of weapons and ammunition that have no legitimate self-defense, target shooting or hunting purpose. for instance, you don't use assault weapons to target shoot. you don't use armor piercing bullets to go rabbit hunting.
you can't drive a car without a license. if you have your license revoked you can be put in jail if you are caught driving. you can't buy cigarettes or alcohol if you are under a certain age, and if you are caught selling them to minors, you can be subject to criminal fines. if your license to sell alcohol is revoked and you continue to sell alcohol, including to minors, you can be put in jail. if you are a gun dealer, however, and your license is revoked, instead of forfeiting the right to sell firearms, your stock is deemed converted into a "private collection", and you are then allowed to go to unregulated gun shows and sell your weapons to anyone without a shred of a background check, whereas licensed dealers are required to run such checks. how much sense does that make?
my original reference herein is not to the events in tucson, which is clearly the sole and exclusive responsibility of a mentally ill/deranged person out on the streets, and nothing else. i would note, however, that if the ban on assault type weapons had not been allowed to expire in 2004, mr. loughner would not have had a thirty-three bullet clip, which has no legitimate self-protection, target shooting or hunting purpose, in his glock, and perhaps, just perhaps, he would have been stopped earlier and with fewer casualties.
what we need is a change in attitude and legislation to keep guns out of the hands of people who are not responsible to handle them properly, such as convicted felons, mentally ill persons, and yes, minors. we need to make it clear that use of a gun in a criminal act will result in enhanced penalties. we need special interests that will promote gun safety and responsibility (yes, i know the nra does that) and draws the line at the unimpeded availability of firearms to those who are incapable of using them correctly. we need legislators who are not afraid of their own shadows, who only wish to be re-elected, and who are willing to do the right and sensible thing with regard to firearms.
sorry about the length of this. i will now get off my high horse, and try to make a living for the day.
Over at Volokh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr cited this article ("OVERCOMING THE FEAR OF GUNS, THE FEAR OF GUN CONTROL, AND THE FEAR OF CULTURAL POLITICS: CONSTRUCTING A BETTER GUN DEBATE"):
"Their prominent (and in many respects fabled) role in American history imbues guns with a surfeit of social meanings. For one segment of American society, guns symbolize honor, human mastery over nature, and individual self-sufficiency. By opposing gun control, individuals affirm the value of these meanings and the vision of the good society that they construct. For another segment of American society, however, guns connote something else: the perpetuation of illicit social hierarchies, the elevation of force over reason, and the expression of collective indifference to the well-being of strangers. These individuals instinctively support gun control as a means of repudiating these significations and of promoting an alternative vision of the good society that features equality, social solidarity, and civilized nonagression.
These competing cultural visions, we will argue, are what drive the gun control debate. They are what dispose individuals to accept certain empirically grounded public-safety arguments and to reject others. Indeed, the meanings that guns and gun control express are sufficient to justify most individuals’ positions on gun control independently of their beliefs about guns and safety."
I have yet to read it but did read "Life-Changing Experiences with Guns" By S. Beth Atkin, which provides various perceptive s from a teenage point of view.
Understanding gun's place in culture is essential. Looking at anything in a vacuum is a bad idea. Surely the important things.
"Understanding gun's place in culture is essential."
has been bouncing around in my head. I am aware of culture in various senses, e.g. my ethnic culture. But the gun's place in culture is not something that was familiar with growing up in the urban community of Boston where I was born in 1930. So I did some "Googling."
Wikipedia has an entry on "Gun culture" that perhaps tracks the quotes Joe provided. But it seems that this culture like originalism is of recent vintage. What seems clear is that there is no clear national gun culture. I did not detect a gun culture here in the Boston area growing up. Sure, we played cowboys and indians/robbers, made slingshots, cut tire tubes into big elastics to "shoot" with wooden "guns." Occasionally, but rarely, someone would get his/her hands on a BB gun. We saw the westerns and the gangster movies with real guns fakely used that sometimes resulted in children's laughter. But guns on the street were not common. There were less cars back then for get-a-ways.
Boston had (and still does) its share of immigrant populations from places where perhaps there was much violence. But there was not a lot of guns around in my youth.
Then there were the war movies during the time of WW II. Many wars started thereafter, including Korea, Vietnam, little wars, Iraq I, and then with the 21st century Afghanistan and Iraq II. More guns. Meantime, from the Great Depression to current times, the number of non-military guns manufactured in the U.S. proliferated. Massachusetts still has tough gun laws. So cultures vary from state to state, municipality to municipality, region to region. But there has been a concerted effort to nationalize gun culture. Heller and McCarthy v. Chicago have yet to be fully played out. But cultures can change. Maybe the point will be reached that every man, woman and child (over a particular age) will need a gun as more and more people carry, concealed and open, causing concern for those who do not really want to be armed because of the potential dangers but necessity calls what with so many other carrying. Sort of a herd mentality. Will that make for a safe America? And of course like keeping up with the advances in cell phone technology, there would be a cultural need to keep up with improved gun technology, resulting in a living gun culture that can kill some good guys.
This is not an original thought, but if the healthcare law's mandate is upheld, might Congress have the power to mandate that every man, woman and child (over a particular age) carry for self defense? (Would I want to be the only one in a crowded theater not carrying?)
If healthcare is commerce, then so are guns (despite Lopez); and some would argue that an armed populace provides health benefits, like saving lives, preventing injuries, thus completing the mandate circle.
I do believe the healthcare mandate satisfies constitutional requirements. The suggested extension to mandatory guns was tongue in cheek, although not beyond the imagination of gun yahoos. As to Lopez, it might be looked at in a different light if the healthcare mandate were ruled constitutional. Also, Mr. Dooley said the Supreme Court follows the "illiction returns." But it sometimes recognizes public outcries of violence and injustice, sometimes unanimously as with Brown v. Board of Education. And Scalia can defend his Heller decision against such outcries by pointing to his dicta on gun limitations AND the limited home self-defense use decision in Heller (yet to be expanded by SCOTUS).
I recommend Jill Lepore"s "The Commandments - The Constitution and its worshippers" appearing in The New Yorker 1/17/11 issue, which includes discussion of gun laws and originalism. WARNING: IT MIGHT SPIKE THE BLOOD PRESSURE OF SOME READERS.
"This is not an original thought, but if the healthcare law's mandate is upheld, might Congress have the power to mandate that every man, woman and child (over a particular age) carry for self defense? "
They've got that power already.
"To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;"
But you're not alone, Shag, in being so obsessed with shoehorning everything into the commerce clause as to not notice that Congress actually has other enumerated powers.
Brett continues to shield his eyes from the blinding light of Wick-burn [sic/sick].
Brett's quote relates to the militia in the "service of the United States" (with certain rights reserved to the states with respect thereto) but it does not relate to the many non-national, personal self defense rights of the Heller type. Perhaps Brett believes that the quote would authorize Congress to prescribe required discipline upon the states under the extension of the Second Amendment to the states by McCarthy v. Chicago to make sure that gun owners are properly trained for the militia, and as a valuable byproduct, for personal non-national use. So who needs the "stinkin'" commerce clause for gun control? According to Brett Congress got the power.
"no clear national gun culture"
I don't know. But, there probably was a regional one. Guns played an important part in the cultures of various regions, from hunting to questions of manhood and self-defense. Likewise, certain regions were more likely to have vanilla or even negative ideas about guns.
As to a national 'must carry law,' two things. First, political will is a major check in our system. Not likely to be passed.
Second, the Art. 1, sec. 8 power to call forth the militia to uphold the laws of the land and deal with domestic violence provides a possible hook. See, Presser v. Illinois on how the states cannot disarm in a way that would interfere with this power.
[protecting various federal interests including the channels of interstate commerce could be involved here -- such as in transportation hub cities, border areas or whatever]
But, again reality will kick in as shown by the First Militia Act that required gun ownership, a law that soon lapsed. Pretty hard to uphold such a national wide requirement. Conscience clauses would also likely be included.
And, the more gun friendly side is also concerned about local discretion and would leave such things to local police.
"Brett's quote relates to the militia in the "service of the United States""
Try reading it again. The clause distinguishes between 'the militia', and "such part of it as is in service of the United States", and the power "To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining" the militia applies to the former. So, yes, as a constitutional matter Congress CAN mandate that every man, woman, and child, (Over a certain age.) go about armed. Precedent from the first militia act even says they can require that we arm ourselves at our own expense.
When I said "local police," I did not mean that police alone would safeguard the matter, but that any requirement to be armed or to serve in the militia to address local crime and such would usually be regulated by local law.
Putting aside whether laches applies to the lengthy (two centuries?) nonuse of a provision of the Constitution, Congress may prescribe disciplining for the state to apply to the training of the state's Militia. Query whether "organizing, arming, and disciplining" = regulating per the "necessary and proper" clause?
By the Bybee (*#^$%@), the 16th Clause should be read in conjunction with the 15th Clause.
We can address the problem of access to firearms by the mentally ill without general firearm prohibitions or pseudo-psychological studies of the attraction of firearms to young males.
Young males are attracted to all manner of machines and gear like cars, computers, sports equipment, etc. Firearms fall into this category. "Boys with toys" has never led to murder.
To address the problem of access to firearms by the mentally ill, I would suggest enactment of a law along the lines of a restraining order. If the police or a citizen notes a person displaying aberrant mental behavior AND threats of violence, then the officer or citizen can file a sworn petition with the court requesting a mental competency evaluation of the person. If the court grants the petition, a temporary restraining order (TRO) shall enter requiring a mental competency exam and a suspension of the the right to keep and bear arms. If the person is found incompetent, a permanent restraining order suspending the person's right to keep and bear arms shall enter subject to later vacation if the person regains mental competency.
The question is whether the ACLU and NRA will ally in opposition to this legislation.
But what would stop the so adjudicated mentally ill person, like the criminal, from "illegally" obtaining guns? The problems of gun violence go well beyond the mentally ill. An otherwise normal person may "snap" under certain conditions without the time to get a TRO, not only in the home, but in a public place, with an assault type weapon.
The post by professor Harcourt immediately pictured for me the setting at the Catalina facility. I saw the Catalina mts., which looklike wilderness and an excellent rock climbing destination. The Oracle road's name, also involved in the incident under discussion, reminds of the fortune tellers in ancient Greece.
I can understand why it might be smart to have a gun in wild lands where there are menacing animals.
But the interview sample is all taken in a detention setting, talking to people in trouble with the law.
So, even if there are outdoors adventurers in the group whose words appear in quotes, and even though close to their city there are dangerous lands for people to hike, the post takes those replies to depict problems with society and youth in a way that has limited connections to city living and disaffected youth.
I worked with alumni recruiting college students for a few years, and did not think those freshman applicants were of the kind who would be into guns in an urban environment. So, the sample is wrong, although informative.
There is much to be told about the character of the US, a mere 400 years since its settlement by European immigrants. But urban problems among youth are only a fraction of the irregularities in the society which has developed in the US. The political environment is much more related to the disaster which caused the professor's post, although I appreciate his insight and work in the field.
Shag from Brookline said... But what would stop the so adjudicated mentally ill person, like the criminal, from "illegally" obtaining guns?
Apart from the deterrence of criminal punishment and his or her own diminished mental capacity, nothing. That is why firearm prohibition regimes fail to keep determined criminals or psychopaths from obtaining firearms. However, such restraining orders would stop the mentally disturbed from acting out of impulse with a firearm sold at a local store.
The problems of gun violence go well beyond the mentally ill.
Agreed. The primary driver of gun violence is our Second Prohibition of drugs. If we decriminalized drugs and permitted regulated sale of them, most of our firearm violence would go away with the black market gangs.
However, this does not mean we cannot address mental illness and firearm access.
But why not address the matter of available supply? Sure, much of the supply is shipped off to Mexico. But then again if there a gun of the month club, apparently there would be many subscribers who might for some reason beyond personal self defense establish arsenals. So there may be also a need to focus upon the demand side. Might establishing an arsenal be considered a sign of a tad of mental instability?
Shag from Brookline said... But why not address the matter of available supply?
Because I and the rest of the People enjoy a fundamental right to keep and bear arms. Government limitation of the supply of protected arms is no more constitutional than limiting the supply of speech.
Deal with the criminals and the mentally impaired. Leave the rest of us alone.
Might obsessing about other people owning guns be considered a mental illness? Look, stop groping around for some excuse to infringe on the right to keep and bear arms. Just. Stop. None of the excuses pass the smell test.
What's your problem with somebody owning an 'arsenal', anyway? They can only shoot one gun at a time, maybe two. You ought to thank them for taking guns 'off the street' at their own expense, if you were being rational about this.
But you're not, and that's the problem.
It seems that our yodeler and Brett feel threatened by words, needing an arsenal of weaponry to fight off words. But words are protected by the First Amendment. Of course there are limitations under the First Amendment's speech clause. And perhaps Justice Scalia's dicta on Second Amendment limitations will be expanded in time.
Of course I recognize that Brett performs a public service by accumulating an arsenal thereby keeping guns off the street as he suggests. Now that's rational?
Let's see, collecting an arsenal of Glocks is as rational as philately, numismatics, watches, bibliophilic, butterflies? I can just hear Brett salivating to "How are Things in Glock-amora" as he meditates upon his arsenal. The Midas touch comes to mind. But stamps don't kill, coins don't kill, Walthams don't kill, books don't kill, and "poor butterfly" - it don't kill (we kill it).
I gave up on stamp collecting many years ago. If I hadn't, I'm sure my collection would have included stamps honoring JFK, RFK and MLK, who shared something in common in addition to the initial "K" relating to this thread. Something to think about as we celebrate today's holiday.
Finished reading the article cited above. Interesting read on how each side processes information on the topic and how any moderate solutions will include respecting both sides.
I again remember our own Prof. Levinson, whose "embarrassing Second Amendment" led the way over twenty years ago.
The government has as much business placing a quota on your posts here at Balkinization as it does placing a quota on the number of firearms I may own. Neither are the province of the government.
The fact that a person can kill with a firearm, while your posts only occasionally make one want to kill himself is irrelevant. Killing is already fully regulated under our homicide laws.
I hope and pray that our yodeler with this:
"The fact that a person can kill with a firearm, while your posts only occasionally make one want to kill himself is irrelevant."
has not personally thought of the latter on occasion. Why if our yodeler were not around, we would have to invent him. So I pass on again to our yodeler Seinfeld's George Costanza's father's "Serenity Now! Serenity Now!" if such thoughts arise.
As I am finishing reading C. Vann Woodward's "The Burden of Southern History" (updated Third Edition 2008), I wonder if much of the current "gun culture" is associated with Woodward's description of the 1950s, 1960s civil rights movement as the "Second Reconstruction," as response/reaction thereto, similar to post the original Reconstruction.
With his Heller opinion, Justice Scalia avoided the CJ Taney trap in Dred Scott with his dicta Second Amendment limitations, as well as focusing on self defense in the home. It seems clear to me that Scalia wanted to avoid Second Amendment absolutism, perhaps in recognition that First Amendment absolutism is not in constitutional vogue. Since Heller and McCarthy v. Chicago, federal courts have avoided Second Amendment absolutism.
Second Amendment public discourse is still playing out. Perhaps in due course there may be changes in "gun culture," especially in response to Second Amendment absolutists (including those who except mental illness) and their needs for arsenals.
sometimes it does, in fact, become better to let others who can say it more eloquently do your talking for you.
Shag, the fundamental difference between people who 'need' arsenals, and people who 'need' other people to not have arsenals, is that the former are leaving other people alone, while the latter are obnoxious busybodies.
Here's an obscure concept you should try to master: You have your life, other people have theirs. Only one of those is any of your business.
Brett has inspired me to get lyrical:'
"PEOPLE, WHO NEED ARSENALS,
ARE THE LUCKIEST PEOPLE,
IN THE WORLD"
Maybe when I complete this, Barbra Streisand will cover it.
But seriously, folks, what good is Brett's arsenal unless he can use it to attend to "obnoxious busybodies" who won't leave him alone? Fortunately the Second Amendment does not trump the First Amendment.
That's a strange insinuation to level at somebody who's as absolutist when it comes to the 1st amendment, as the 2nd. But I suppose it's in keeping with the general phenomenon of leftists attributing every view they don't like to anybody who disagrees with them about even one thing, regardless of what they might actually have a track record of saying.
Brett's "Absolut" track is intoxicating. It should be kept in mind that at some point an arsenal of an individual may become "compulsive hoarding" in the medical sense. From a libertarian standpoint, such a hoarder may cause harm to him/herself, as was recently in the news with two brothers. But an arsenal of weaponry ("Arms for the love of Allah") can cause harm to others, whether intended or not.
And eating a peanut may cause one to choke to death or die from a reaction. But neither the peanut nor the car is designed to maim, injure, kill, as is the case with lethal arms. Brett brings up a grade school argument. Perhaps his next argument may be "Mine's bigger than yours."
Of course, cars are subject to regulations. And the FDA has food disclosure requirements to warn those allergic to peanuts. So why not regulate guns? Or would Brett prefer that cars and peanuts be deregulated?
Or would Brett prefer that cars and peanuts be deregulated?
In fact, he would. Brett is a big fan of Somalia.
Author Larry McMurtry's (Lonesome Dove, etc) OpEd "The charm and violence of Tucson" in today's WaPo closes with this:
"I also doubt that Jared Lee Loughner fired 30 shots into a crowd outside a Safeway because he had a particular gripe against one of Giffords's policies. He did it because he was crazy and he could get a gun."
Nicholas Kristoff pointed out in the NYTimes last week that the U.S. government regulates toys and asks why it can't regulate guns. The answer of a minority seems to track the late AZ Sen. Barry Goldwater:
"Absolutism in the defense of the Second Amendment is no vice; and moderation in the pursuit of gun regulation is no virtue."
Maybe toys shouldn't be regulated just because such regulation saves children's lives.
The Legal Theory Blog provides a link to Michael J. Habib's (a second year law student) article "'I'll give you my gun when you take it from my cold, dead hands!" The Future of Gun Control Laws post-McDonald and Heller and the Death of One-Gun-Per-Month Legislation, available at SSRN:
The article runs 50 double spaced but unnumbered pages, and is a relatively quick read. Much of the focus is on the level of scrutiny. While the author is a believer in Heller and McDonald, he is not a Second Amendment absolutist.
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