Jared Lee Loughner, the alleged gunman who critically wounded among others Arizona Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed six, including: Gifford’s aide, a federal judge, and a nine-year old girl has been described as a mentally ill individual who is a drug user.
Despite the fact that Mr. Loughner’s community college suspected he had mental illness issues, he was able to purchase a 9 mm weapon. Many wonder why someone like Jared Loughner’s mental illness information did not appear in the FBI background check the store used at the time Mr. Loughner purchased his weapon.
Unfortunately, liberal legislation makes it difficult to document such cases like Mr. Loughner easily, so even if Arizona submitted all of it’s mental illness cases to the federal government to be included in instant FBI background checks, someone like Mr. Loughner would still fall through the cracks.
Essentially, the mentally ill person needs to first cooperate with law enforcement, the courts, and the hospitals before any record of his illness ever becomes documented. Mr. Loughner was not even close to that point yet. So while Arizona had only submitted 4,465 mental illness cases for gun disqualification to the federal government in almost three years, Mr. Loughner was never documented as being mentally ill by authorities yet anyway, despite suspicions from college classmates and officials.
The below excerpt shows the various hoops officials must jump through before an individual is even considered for voluntary hospitalization. According to the Arlington, VA based non-profit Treatement Advocacy Center:
Arizona rules apply to someone who needs treatment but is unable to seek it voluntarily.
Arizona mental health laws outline what steps must be followed and what standards must be met before someone can be ordered into treatment in the hospital or in the community.
Arizona is one of 44 states that allow court-ordered treatment in the community, often called “assisted outpatient treatment” or “outpatient commitment.”
Arizona is also among half of the states whose treatment standard is based on a person’s “need for treatment” and not just on the person’s likelihood of being dangerous to self or others. The following summary can be helpful for a family member trying to get court-ordered treatment for a loved one.
In recent years, advocates for the mentally ill created more boundaries for law enforcement and healthcare workers to forcibly hospitalize Americans who are suspected of being a danger to both themselves and others. The 1966 Lanterman Petris Short Act (LPS Act) was California legislation designed to reform the antiquated state of mental institutions in the state.
It should be noted that LPS was signed by Governor Reagan in California but only after pressure from groups like the ACLU stepped in and sued on behalf of patients who were being involuntarily hospitalized. Other states followed suit with their own similar involuntary and voluntary commitment statutes.
According to U.S. Veteran’s Affairs, “Maurice Rodgers, spokesman for the California State Psychological Association, called the plan the “Magna Carta of the Mentally Ill,” while the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), officially in support of the legislation, raised objection to the fact that the patient had to personally petition for a due process hearing at the initial point in the commitment. (The current probable cause hearing at 72 hours was legislated after a court case in 1978, known as Doe v. Gallinot.)”
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:
When faced with a person who is “acting out” as a result of his/her illness, law enforcement officers usually have only three options: (1) Do nothing, which usually means leaving the person on the street with no proactive treatment linkage; (2) commit the individual to hospitalization, providing that he/she meets the current stringent behavioral criteria for involuntary treatment; or (3) arrest the individual. When the person’s behavior is too openly deviant to leave in public scrutiny but he/she does not fit the stringent behavioral criteria for involuntary hospitalization, the only option available to most law enforcement officers is arrest.98
People with mental illness who commit criminal offenses tend to be the subgroup of mentally ill people who lack insight and revolve through homelessness, hospitalization and jail.99 In a study of male inmates in a California county jail, 90% had prior psychiatric hospitalizations and 92% had prior arrest records. Four-fifths exhibited severe, overt psychopathology. Few were actively receiving medical treatment for their mental illness at the time of their arrest. Overall, the jailed population was characterized by severe, acute and chronic mental illness resulting in poor functioning. The author of the study found the population to be a generally “uncared-for” group, arrested for minor criminal acts that were “really manifestations of their illness, their lack of treatment, and lack of structure in their lives.” More than half of the group studied were currently charged with felonies, and 39% were charged with crimes of violence.100
Generally, people who are charged with felonies are arrested, rather than hospitalized, regardless of their mental condition.101 Law enforcement officers can only divert from arrest for lower level crimes. The key factor in criminalization of people with mental illness is the current practice in California of emphasizing danger as a criterion for involuntary treatment. Most people with mental illness are not dangerous, but for those who will be charged with serious or violent crimes, waiting for danger is to be too late.
While pundits and lawmakers continue to play armchair psychiatrist and figure out which political graphic or slogan they can pin on their opponents for the cause of the Tucson massacre, well intentioned outdated bureaucratic healthcare legislation continues to cause horror and tragedy yet again.