I keep hoping that the Tucson shooting will prompt relevant public-policy discussions, rather than irrelevant discussions, but my hopes are mainly in vain. By relevant discussions, I mean the following: A national conversation about the way we identify, treat and house the mentally ill (Arizona, as I understand it, has recently cut its mental health budget) and a national conversation about how the mentally ill, and other unqualified people, gain such easy access to handguns.
On the issue of mental illness, friend-of-the-blog Julie Sandorf, the president of the Charles H. Revson Foundation, who has many years of experience on the issues of mental health and on housing for the seriously mentally ill, e-mailed me this:
I can't help but put my two cents in on your comments about involuntary commitment. I couldn't agree with you more about the hijacking of this issue -- caring for the seriously mentally ill -- by the ardent civil libertarians, but that's not the issue here. The real heartbreak is the serious lack in this country of community mental health systems, particularly in colleges and universities. Given what has been reported about Loughner, the repeated bizarre behavior symptomatic of serious mental illness (and early 20's is exactly the age of onset of schizophrenia), what did the community college do? They threw him out of school. I will wager that he's never been involved in whatever community mental health system exists in Tucson. This is not just a problem with underfunded community colleges-the lack of appropriate and effective mental health services is endemic across our colleges and universities -- including the most elite.