The shooting of a U.S. Congresswoman over the weekend has promoted a ton of debate and discussion over the toxic political climate in the country. I’m not going to join in that discussion. What I’m going to talk about is prevention vs. cure. We in America are big on cures. Everywhere you look you can find someone talking about some kind of ‘cure’. Cures for cancer, cures for homelessness, cures for illiteracy, cures for drug abuse and now of course, how we can cure the current divisive political climate. What isn’t talked about so much is prevention. (Unless you’re talking breast cancer, and then all you hear about is prevention through mammograms. I know there are exceptions…)
Jared Loughner, the young man who carried out the shooting over the weekend was clearly mentally ill. The military turned him down, for undisclosed reasons (at least, I think they are still undisclosed – I haven’t checked today). If those reasons had anything to do with possible mental instability, shouldn’t someone have been contacted? Counseling provided? Then Mr. Loughner dropped out of college this past Fall after exhibiting repeated bizarre behavior in class, so much so that fellow students and the teacher were concerned for their own safety. Was anyone informed about that? Was his family contacted? Perhaps a mental health professional consulted? I don’t know for sure but if I was betting, I’d guess the answer is no. All too often, we shy away from addressing uncomfortable issues and just hope that everything will be all right. In this case, it wasn’t. Someone like Mr. Loughner should not have been allowed to purchase a 9mm semi-automatic gun in late November. But there was nothing in the background check that flagged him.
Of course we can never prevent every bad thing that might happen. That is the way of parents who won’t let their kids climb a flight of stairs on their own till they are 18, or let them play in a park with friends unless supervised by an adult. It’s a weird dichotomy that in a country that has gone a bit mad with ‘helicopter parenting’, we still shy away from anything that might point to someone needing professional help when it comes to mental or in many cases even physical health. Was there no one in Jared Loughner’s life who cared enough to notice the signs of instability and do something about it? How did he get to that moment on Saturday without anyone trying to prevent it?
To me the discussion in the media should not be the dangers of political divisiveness. (Actually it would be great if they would talk about that and stop being the source of much of it.) In this case, however, the discussion might revolve around the additional tragedy of a young man who was mentally unstable – at times very publicly so – and who instead of being helped, was avoided. Everyone turned their heads, shuddered and said nothing to anyone who might have intervened. That ounce of prevention was nowhere to be found. And now, for Mr. Loughner at least, it’s a little late for a cure.