The XX Factor

Anyone Could Have Requested a Mental Health Evaluation for Jared Lee Loughner

Emily B., it seems pretty clear that the answer to your question is no - Jared Lee Loughner needed mental health help, and he didn’t get it. According to this story in the Washington Post , the alleged shooter was totally unknown to the Community Partnership of Southern Arizona, the Tucson entity that deals with mental health issues. But he should have been. Emily Y., you’re right that laws are “skewed toward protecting the rights of the mentally ill” in most states. But Arizona has unusually liberal mental health laws. There, anyone can file a petition asking a court to evaluate someone “solely because a person appears to be mentally ill and doesn’t know it.” Loughner had professors , fellow students , and friends who were afraid to be around him (or at least afraid to be around him and guns ). If any one of them had filed a petition, Community Partnership would have been alerted and could have conducted a mental health evaluation on Loughner. Who knows what would have happened from there?

Emily B., you asked what we should expect from community colleges who have kids like Loughner on their rosters. It seems to me that - particularly in a state with laws like Arizona’s - dealing with a potentially dangerous individual is less the responsibility of the college than the community. Loughner’s fellow students, many of whom articulated their fear of him ( “he scares the living crap out of me” ), are adults, as are his professors, his friends, his neighbors, and his family members. It’s hard to blame them for not doing more. It’s highly unlikely that many, if any, of them knew what options they had for dealing with the threat they knew Loughner posed. But awareness of such laws (in the states where they’re on the books) should increase in the coming weeks.

Marie Myung-Ok Lee wrote movingly about the hope inherent in the stories of brave men and women, college students and 60-somethings, who risked their lives to take down Loughner on Saturday. Like her, I’m grateful for them and their courage. But I hope next time, that spirit - that willingness to risk personal safety or convenience for the sake of others - will manifest itself earlier in the process, in the form of a fellow student who files a petition for a mental health evaluation or a friend who finally picks up the phone because she knows something’s not right. Wouldn’t it be better if interventions took the form of requesting mental health evaluations, rather than wrestling 31-shot magazines away from crazed gunmen? While that sort of action doesn’t have quite the same drama as what unfolded in Tucson, it does require a certain sort of bravery - a willingness to stick your neck out, to be dismissed, to incur some wrath. And it’s the sort of bravery that can save lives just as surely as the parking lot heroics did Saturday.