Now that info has been pouring out about Jared Loughner, the gunman who (allegedly???) shot up a crowd at a political meet-n'-greet in Tucson Arizona last weekend, it's becoming clear that this guy doesn't fit into any simple political niche. Despite what commenters on the left have argued, this guy likely wasn't spurred to do what he did by right wing rhetoric and bombast (though as I noted yesterday, it's still in poor taste to draw targets on your political opponents and refer to them the same way we do for truly evil folks). Loughner's background seems to be that of a mentally disturbed individual whose strongest justification for trying to kill a politician is the politician's "assault on language". The crazy runs deep with this guy.
Still, there's a natural tendency after every awful event to take some sort of action to prevent it from ever happening again. After 9/11, we've entered two far-flung wars and instituted security measures ranging from "this might actually prevent something" to "this is bone-chillingly stupid" (see, the ban on shampoo above a certain size). This, despite the fact that due to 9/11 no one will ever be able to hijack a plane again without being stomped to death by the passengers. Here, we've seen three types of reactions:
1) We should pressure political pundits to tone down their bombastic speeches. As I said, it's poor taste to talk of "war" against your "enemies" when your enemies are Democrats/Republicans and the "war" is over tax rates. This is also stupid. But it's a stretch to argue that that sort of talk is what causes random nuts to do this sort of thing. If we have to worry that the latest stupidity from Sarah Palin is going to make someone literally go murderous, then for that sort of "easily touched off" person we'd have to be careful of pretty much anything. Even a statement such as "Senator Doe's policies are bad for America" would then be the "dog whistle" necessary for the next Loughner to go shooting.
2) We should have more bans on handguns. Now, some added safeguards--background checks, psychological evaluations--might have been able to prevent Loughner from getting armed. But at the end of the day, I have a hard time believing that a determined person who has no problem committing murder would be unable to get a weapon somehow. At the same time, the argument that more guns in the hands of bystanders would have prevented this by letting them shoot him immediately is also far fetched. If anything, a bunch of citizens whipping out their hand cannons in that crowd would likely have put the death toll up a lot more. The "handgun as self defense for law abiding citizens" argument works in many scenarios, this really isn't one of them.
While having a ready solution--"of course this could have been prevented if we'd just done this!"--can make us feel better or at least more in control, this seems to be one of those cases where something awful happened and we can't make sense of it.