At this point in time, it's not very fruitful to speculate on the political ideology of Jared Lee Loughner, the young man who shot Gabrielle Giffords and killed six others in Tucson yesterday. Though Loughner espoused certain right-wing (anti-choice) and extreme libertarian (pro-commodity currency) positions, his online persona could best be described as paranoid and irrational. His favorite books included Hitler's Mein Kampf, but also lefty favorites like Orwell and Marx.
As James Fallows wisely points out, the ideologies of assassins and attempted assassins rarely map neatly onto the most pressing political issues of the day.
I do think it's fair, though, to make two policy points in the wake of this tragedy:
As a country, we don't do enough to provide care to the mentally ill. Loughner was identified as emotionally unstable by his community college, but then what happened? As an unemployed college drop-out, was he insured? Did he have access to the care he needed?
Ironically, the health reform law that Giffords supported, attracting so much animosity, contained several provisions expressly intended to help disconnected youth like Loughner. It allows young adults up to age 26 to be covered by their parents' insurance, and also expands support for mental health and addiction services.
As health reform is implemented, it's very important that mental health be defined by the Department of Health and Human Services as preventive care–meaning insurance companies will have to offer counseling and other psychological services within every insurance plan they sell.
Progressives and the Democratic Party cannot give up on gun control. It's sad that we need to be reminded of this after tragedies like Fort Hood, Virginia Tech, and Columbine, but we seemingly do. So I was glad to see Mayor Mike Bloomberg make the following statement at a Brooklyn church this morning:
These shootings are just terrible examples, and a terrible reminder, of the gun violence that happens every single day in our country. We don't know all the facts of this case yet, but we do know that every single day, 34 Americans are murdered – every single day. Yesterday it was Judge John Roll and five other Americans – and many more, across the fifty states. Tomorrow there will be another 34. And so it will continue until we get serious about cracking down on illegal guns and protecting innocent people. I’ve built a coalition of more than 500 mayors from across the country – from both political parties – who are dedicated to fighting gun violence. It is an uphill struggle, but if all of us join it – if all of us speak out – I believe we really can make a difference and save lives.
Update: Salon reports the now-expired assault weapons ban would have made it illegal to buy the magazine Loughner used in the shooting. "Our gun laws are so weak that someone who couldn't get into the military, who was kicked out of school, and who used drugs walked into a gun store and was able to immediately buy a semiautomatic weapon," said Daniel Vice, senior attorney at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Update 2: Arizona is one of the worst states in the country at providing care to the mentally ill, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center.