The Unpredictable Repercussions of Tragedy

Over the weekend, as I’m sure you’re aware, an individual shot a number of people in Arizona, including a member of Congress. This was undoubtedly a tragedy, and one which a lot of the country is more than willing to fixate on for days or even weeks.

Beyond the shock and sadness, though, there are a lot of interesting effects that will play out for months or even years to come, and they all pretty much revolve around one thing: Fear.

The most obvious effect is that, as with every time there’s a high-profile crime committed with a firearm in this country, the most most of extreme of gun-fondling Second Amendment fanatics begin concocting fearful and far-fetched conspiracy theories about how this, that, or some other things are about to be banned by that lesbian bitch Janet Reno. (Reno was Attorney General under Clinton. Yes, I know she’s no longer in office, I’m making fun of out-of-touch mentally regressive militia members who haven’t realized it’s not 1995 any more, don’t e-mail me, thanks…) This time around, high-capacity handgun magazines are the purported target of government wrath, so all the good little dittoheads are, one can sort of hope, raiding their 401Ks to stockpile spare twenty-round mags for their Glocks and 1911s.

So, you know, one mentally-ill guy goes on a shooting spree, and, driven by completely irrational fears, a (very, very large) bunch of people spend their savings on stuff they don’t really need, leaving them poorer (but better armed, one must admit) and the government a little richer (tax revenues, baby).

Jared Loughner probably couldn’t have predicted this; it is, after all, irrational behavior. But, like it or not, he’s stimulated the economy ever so slightly while raising the blood pressure of the gun-fondlers of America.

Some of the (marginally) more rational gun advocates, unencumbered by conspiracy theories involving blue-helmeted foreigners forcibly disarming the Bible Belt, have – as they fairly often do, in these regrettably frequent circumstances – tried to (comparatively) reasonably suggest that instead of getting rid of high-capacity magazines, maybe the government should get rid of, you know… the mentally ill. (High-power handguns with extended-capacity magazines do not kill people, after all.) Not, like, Dachau-style mass extermination “get rid of”, of course, but, say, treatment facilities or programs or something whereby good level-headed patriotic Americans who appreciate the value of an honest day’s work can be protected from crazy people who might kill lots of strangers for the wrong reasons.

This knee-jerk reaction is a really bad idea, albeit unintentionally humorous. Leaving aside the whole question of how (i.e. taxes) you’re going to fund such a scheme or the sheer logistics involved, it seems very clear to me that the people most loudly calling for this sort of extreme, reactionary overhaul of mental-health treatment in this country are not thinking things through all the way, surprise surprise.

Let’s think about this for a minute: If you have a (diagnosed) mental illness that renders you (obviously) dangerous to others, you should receive treatment. But… that’s how things work now, and it (demonstrably) isn’t preventing (the wrong kinds of ) violence. So, you need to expand to include people who might be a danger. Or is it “could”? Where do you stop, really? What do you do about the unpleasantly obtrusive fact that diagnosing mental health issues is an art, rather than a science?

“First they came for the sociopaths, and I said nothing… finally they came for the people in persistent vegitative states, and…”

I think we all know how that frightening tale ends.

Then there’s the whole issue of people with “issues” who manage to go undiagnosed for years or decades. Clearly there needs to be mandatory, compulsory mental-health screening… right? That’s the only way to identify the (potentially) dangerous before they (have the opportunity to) do something stupid. It’s (more than) a little bit intrusive, and embarrassing, but there are (weak) precedents, like how you’re required to have vaccinations to go to school, have to get a medical exam to be a pilot, and whatnot. You go and apply for a driver’s license, or maybe you want to enter high school, or apply for a job, you get your head shrunk, America is safe, problem solved.

Except… no. That’s not how it would, or could, ever work. Nobody’s going to spend a dozen or more hours developing a rapport with every DMV applicant, getting to know them and ferreting out the deepest and most closely-held secrets in their psyche. Economically and otherwise logistically unviable. Nope, they’d throw you in a chair, hook you up, and screen you with a bullshit five-minute polygraph examination administered by some minimum-wage college dropout who knows fuck all about psychology.

Do you think drugs are bad?
Have you ever used hallucinogens?
Have you ever wanted to harm your self?
Have you ever tried to harm yourself?
If someone you loved wanted to harm you, would you let them?
Have you ever wanted to harm someone else?
Do you love your parents?
Do you think your parents love you?
Are you sure?
Have you ever threatened someone with violence?
Have you ever wanted to threaten someone with violence?

Deception indicated! Off to the funny farm for you, Sir. Nothing personal, just the needs of the many outweighing the rights of the few.

Who’ll pay for it? Insurance. No, wait, the people being screened. No, their employers, or their parents’ employers. No, how about tax dollars, then. Indirectly, through healthcare subsidies and rebates for employers and federal funds to school districts…

The whole (unfounded) fear that the government will “ban” or, God forbid, “take away” (almost entirely pointless) high-capacity handgun magazines in the wake of Jared Loughner’s little escapade has, as ridiculous as it might seem, made a small but vocal portion of the (almost exclusively far-right) gun-fondling fringe speak up in favor of a rights-infringing flavour of socialized tax-funded health care which, if they stopped and thought about it for a few moments, they would realize was a thousand times less desirable to anyone than the oh-so-ridiculously-vilified “Obamacare”.

That, in my book, is even more of an improbable miracle than Representative Giffords being shot in the head at close range and surviving.

Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', General, Security | on January 13th, 2011| Comments Off on The Unpredictable Repercussions of Tragedy

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