Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The deterioration of Jared Loughner



Moving past all of the political implications of the January 8 shooting in Tucson, Arizona, these two articles discuss the mental state and life of shooter Jared Lee Loughner. The Time article opens with a story from Loughner's childhood friend, who remembers playing in her father's police car with him, when he liked to turn on the siren. But as they grew up through high school (until the day Loughner just stopped coming), she, and several other acquaintances, noticed drastic changes. He started having mood swings, and, when briefly attending community college, his strange pronouncements in class frightened both classmates and professors, until he was kicked out for "mental issues." A psychiatrist interviewed in the USA today article suggests that Loughner suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, which usually first manifests itself in the teen years and is marked by odd behavior and a dissociation from reality.
It was my feeling from first hearing about Loughner that any political motivation for his rampage was tangential at most. As more information about Jared Loughner came out, I saw a severely disturbed mind that could have lashed out anywhere, at anyone. Like Herbert Mullin (schizophrenic murderer who stalked Santa Cruz in the 1970s), Loughner was an intelligent, generally pleasant young man who underwent a drastic transformation in late adolescence. Like John Hinckley (who shot Ronald Reagan in a deluded, non-political attempt to capture the attention of a woman he had never met), and Mark David Chapman (whose love/hate for someone he didn't know led to the murder of John Lennon), Loughner had a history of drug use, which likely exacerbated his shaky mental state. Loughner's unrecognized mental disorder led to suspension from college, the denial of his Army application (which was directly related to his use of marijuana) and the loss of several jobs, likely causing him, in his troubled mind, to believe that the world was conspiring against him, and he decided to fight back. Reading political philosophy through the filter of his deteriorating mind, he targeted a convenient political figure, in the form of a local congresswoman. But Loughner's rampage was too disorganized to be a deliberate political assassination. He may have begun by targeting Giffords, but his rage and insanity took over, turning the would-be assassination into a mass murder. It is surprising that, unlike most killers of his type, Loughner did not end his rampage by taking his own life. Or maybe he was so deranged that he didn't even have an ending in mind.
Could Jared Loughner successfully plead insanity? The insanity defense rarely works, and considering the high-profiled nature of this case, the call for justice from victims' families and the outraged public could be too strong. It also appears that, at least in part, Loughner was conscious of his actions, from purchasing the gun to tracking down his intended victim. If he is schizophrenic, it's in the beginning stages (which makes sense, since at 22, the progression of schizophrenia has often just begun). The turnout of his trial remains to be seen, but, given precedent, it looks like he will be found guilty.

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