It will be unclear for some time whether alleged Arizona shooter Jared Lee Loughner will qualify for an insanity defense. But one need not be a practicing psychiatrist to see that the 22 year old is a disturbed individual.
The murder of six people and the wounding of 14 others, including Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the apparent target, was not the work of a right-wing conspiracy, vast or minimal.
Rather, it was the fruit of a psyche as unhinged as those of other assassins: Mark David Chapman (John Lennon's killer), Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme (who targeted President Gerald Ford), John Hinckley Jr. (President Ronald Reagan's shooter), or Seung-Hui Cho (the mass murderer of 33 at Virginia Tech in 2007).
The misfit lone gun is as iconic, and as American, as apple pie. Holden Caulfield morphs into Patrick Bateman and packs — in the cases of Loughner and Cho — a nine-millimeter, semi-automatic Glock "Safe Action Pistol."
Priced at $499 a weapon, the Glock is considered the world's finest mass-market handgun. It is reliable to shoot, accurate, and difficult to trace because of its unique ballistics. It is a favorite of police, sportsmen, and — not surprisingly — criminals, especially gangsters. Mass murderers are still a niche market.
When Loughner was wrestled to the ground on the Tucson Safeway parking lot, his Glock was equipped with an extended magazine that police say doubled the gun's manufactured capacity. At one time, such alterations were illegal under the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. Thanks, however, to congressional inaction in 2004, it is now perfectly fine in most states to make an already superlatively lethal weapon twice as deadly by modifying its magazine to accommodate as many as 30 rounds.
The Phoenix is no fan of handguns and, outside of sporting clubs, sees little reason for them to be in private hands. We recognize this is a minority position. Still, it seems a sign of congressional impotence and Democratic cowardice that restrictions on firepower cannot even be considered. The right to kill innocents clearly outweighs any potential inconvenience to target shooters.
Gun worship is the great American psychosis. It is a disorder of the collective psyche. It has so deranged the national personality that huge swaths of the country have lost touch with reality.
Why Arizona matters
Arizona is one of the territories where normal social functioning appears to be deteriorating. And gun worship there (ironically practiced by the now-wounded Giffords) is just one symptom of a slide into a more rude and more crude form of civil society.
As the rich grow richer, even in the midst of the Great Recession, and the poor grow poorer, the increasingly fragile middle class grows more hollowed with every passing quarter. It is a national, even international, affliction but it manifests itself in the American Sun Belt in especially nasty ways.
Arizona may not be ground zero of national fear and loathing, but the high proportion of nationally recognized hate groups relative to its population is a disturbing indicator that much is amiss there. South Carolina and Louisiana may outstrip Arizona in their ratio of haters to the general population, but with 16 active and identifiable hate groups in a population of almost 6.6 million, intolerance and suspicion is a growth industry in the Grand Canyon State.