The XX Factor

Jared Loughner and the Trouble With Jumping to Conclusions

First Jared Lee Loughner was influenced by Sarah Palin’s “gunsights” campaign Web site and general Tea Party rabble-rousing. Then it was mental illness. And then various claims that the Tea Party’s “violent rhetoric” influenced a mentally ill young man.

Today comes an important reminder that all this jumping to conclusions is good for T V ratings and Web traffic, but it doesn’t really help us understand what happened last Saturday when Loughner shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed six people.

The latest development is that an ex-girlfriend of Loughner’s  tells the Daily Mail that he started “going off the rails” when she broke up with him.  In 2005, long before the Tea Party and back in those blissful days when no one outside of Alaska had heard the name Sarah Palin.

Kelsey Hawkes reports that Loughner was “normal” during their relationship but that “something changed in him, he was not the same person when I told him it was over. I remember his face clearly-he just looked like he had nothing to live for. It was my first relationship and it was his first relationship.” She also mentioned he used drugs afterward.

There are many things that could have made Lougher snap. Maybe he does have a mental illness. Maybe he has drug-induced psychosis. Maybe he was on the verge of mental illness and, while Hawkes reports that there were no signs of trouble while they were dating, she sensed something was “off about him” and got out of the relationship right about the time he would have started showing signs of disturbance.

The point is that we still don’t know. In time, we should find out. That’s what the judicial system is for. Loughner will be examined. Evidence will be gathered and presented. And then maybe we’ll get a picture of what was going on in his head on that fateful day.

Conditioned as we are by the nonstop news cycle, it’s hard to wait. But it’s better than fighting with our friends and neighbors about whether it’s OK to blame rhetoric that Loughner might never have listened  to or argue that he should or shouldn’t be let off the hook for a mental illness he may or may not have.