In the fall of 2010, I was sharing a big country house with a friend from Tucson. Seth was slogging through a bad long-distance divorce with a lot of grace, so when his beloved grandparents were passing through Oregon on their way back to Arizona, we invited them to be our first dinner guests.
Dorwin and Mavy Stoddard turned out to be a gentle old Republican couple, married 50 years and still wildly in love. It was a pleasant dinner and a night of light conversation. Since childhood, Seth had been very close to Dory, his main mentor in life. Sadly, it would be their last meeting.
In January, the Stoddards were both gunned down at the Giffords shooting in Tucson. Although the congresswoman was a Democrat, they attended in support of public participation in politics. At the first bang, Dory reactively threw Mavy to the pavement and covered her with his body. When he looked up, he took a fatal head shot, as three bullets struck her leg. Dory lived just long enough to say goodbye to his wife of half a century as she cradled his bleeding head in her lap. For ten minutes, nobody noticed that she’d been wounded, too. She was covered in blood.
When I read about the shooter, the thought-balloon above my head read, “Okay. This has got to stop.” Yet another senseless shooting of innocents by some firearm-abusing, hairy-eyed, not-responsible-for-anything God’s-Mistake. That sweet old lady had lost her lifetime love and was left a lonely widow, publicly sharing her power of blanket forgiveness and faith. Her husband died a hero’s death. A little girl was killed before she could even begin to be a young adult. And in his mugshot, the shooter was smiling like an idiot. See what I done.
My compassion for him wouldn’t fill a thimble, then or now. I don’t need slow and bloody revenge, although I’m getting comfortable with the idea. I fervently want this evil phenomenon stopped right now, everywhere and forever. But how?
The easy answer is, nobody knows. Even in this day, mental illness carries an unfair social stigma, and mass shootings do nothing to ease this irrational fear of an entire group of Americans, the vast majority of whom are nonviolent. Gun controls aren’t working, and a murderous psychopath can get a firearm as easily as an average citizen.
We should start early to identify potential offenders for isolation, treatment, and counseling. But as any juvenile corrections officer in the U.S. can tell you, incarceration and medication is the default treatment for juveniles with mental health problems. And it has been since 1980.
Randy Gardner is an Arizona mental health professional, another wounded victim of that day. "This is sad. This is tragic. This young man was treatable," he said after the shooting. But — "This state has cut back in mental health (treatment and programs)..."
Fine, fine, there are good reasons this happened, and it’s apparently nobody’s fault. Certainly not Loughner’s, although he’s legally sane and guilty of six premeditated murders. He will live out his long life with zero responsibilities, at a rough cost of $75,000 a year.
Am I missing something here? Is closure too much to ask from Jared Lee Loughner? Seven life sentences will not replace or repay the seven lives, including his, which he wasted. Full forgiveness is one excellent way to find closure. Many of the victims have found it in their hearts, and it is slowly healing them of awful pain.
But it doesn’t work for me, because it won’t stop the next random act of ugliness. We could use our imaginations, but of course we can’t; the Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, although not heinous and unspeakable crimes.
Nor can I print methods of deterrence by example that come to mind, and which might even give maniacs pause. These ideas, too, are unspeakable and repugnant. But if we ever want these recurring horrors of hyper-violence to stop, perhaps we should be prepared to think about the unthinkable.
Or maybe I should pray harder for some compassion and forgiveness for Jared Lee Loughner, and for a miracle to end this endless madness. Maybe that will work. You think?