- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 16, 2011

The debate in the immediate aftermath of the Arizona shootings about whether highly charged political rhetoric led to the Arizona shootings, now apparently the work of an apolitical-but-disturbed gunman, turned Sunday to concerns about mental health in America.

“We need to make sure we fix the right problem, mental health,” Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Nobody grabbed hold of [the shooting suspect] and said, ‘You need to be helped.’”

In the days after the Jan. 8 assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona Democrat, people close to suspect Jared Lee Loughner, 22, have said his behavior had turned increasing bizarre and threatening over the past few years.

A post-shooting incident this weekend in Arizona raised different questions about mental health, particularly post-traumatic stress.

Shooting victim James Eric Fuller began ranting Saturday at the end of a televised town-hall meeting about the mass shootings outside a Safeway store in Tucson. The taping was aired Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

He took a picture of Tucson Tea Party co-founder Trent Humphries, then yelled “you’re dead” and called others in the church “whores,” authorities said. Mr. Fuller, a military veteran, was arrested for disorderly conduct and taken to a hospital for a mental evaluation.

Mr. Humphries was saying that the country’s heated political rhetoric, initially blamed for the incident, should be toned down, when Mr. Fuller began booing. Mr. Humphries later told the Associated Press that he was worried about the threat, and the dozens of other angry e-mails he has received.

“I had nothing to do with the murders that happened or the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords,” the tea party leader said. “And I wonder, if [Mr. Fuller] is crazy or is he the canary in a coal mine? Is he saying what a lot of other people are holding in their hearts? If so, that’s a problem.”

Though Mr. Fuller reportedly thought he could be suffering from the traumatic experience, his next-door neighbor said Mr. Fuller occasionally acts strangely, including saying he was going to drive to Mr. Loughner’s house to forgive him. Mr. Loughner has been in custody since the shootings.

Mrs. Giffords’ condition continued to improve after being shot in the head. Her condition was upgraded Sunday from “critical” to “serious” because she is no longer on a ventilator and is breathing on her own, according to the University of Arizona medical center where she is being treated.

On Sunday, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, called for a three-part plan than includes changing laws to make them tougher for mentally ill people to buy a gun. He also backed proposed Democratic legislation to limit ammunition clips to 10 rounds, though he acknowledged the difficulties of passing such a bill.

“Let’s be honest, there haven’t been the votes,” he said on “Meet the Press.” “But make no mistake, changes are needed. We’re looking for a common ground.”

Mr. Coburn supported Mr. Schumer’s position, saying the country must “make sure people who are mentally ill do not get a gun.”

Reps. Grace F. Napolitano, California Democrat, and Tim Murphy, Pennsylvania Republican, who co-chair the Congressional Mental Health Caucus, said they expected a Capitol Hill hearing following the shootings in Arizona, in which six people were killed and 13 others injured, including Mrs. Giffords.

However, they said they did not expect an increase in federal funding on the issue. Ms. Napolitano said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that mental health issues often are overlooked, particularly by lawmakers, until it’s too late.

“It’s always something you don’t talk about, you don’t discuss because of the stigma, and I think we need to address that heavily,” she said.

Said Mr. Murphy: “Unfortunately, people are going at the low-hanging fruit, and they’re blaming political discourse. … But we also need to look at the other things that have come out. … Are we acknowledging and appropriately treating mental illness?”

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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