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'Alone in a desert of strangers' - Thoughts on the Tucson shooting

Mobility, transient mentality create hurdles for community building

It is striking that politicians and pundits have avoided discussing the relationship between the shooting and our sense of community—or, more accurately, between the shooting and our absence of community. By separating the rampage from its cultural context, we allow ourselves to dodge hard questions.

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4 comments on this story

Jan 16, 2011, 4:10 pm
-0 +1

Fabulous writing and excellent observations. I agree that it is difficult to get “connection” here in Tucson. But I’m more committed to making the effort now more than ever.

Jan 16, 2011, 4:45 pm
-0 +0

Well, correlation is in fact NOT causation.

You raise some good points, but Loughner’s actions have little to do with the closeness or not of Tucson’s community.

Loughner is almost certainly mentally disturbed. He would be disturbed regardless of where he lived – in Tucson, New York City, Cairo or a tiny Inuit village far north of the Arctic Circle.

Arizona’s lax gun laws served as an enabler, but they enabled Loughner to shoot 19 rather than stab three or four (as happens on occasion in Japan, where I live, and where society is incredibly homogeneous and gun laws are extremely restrictive). We are, after all, an “empty the mag” culture (and thanks to Hollywood, we have exported that culture around the world).

Whatever view you may have about Arizona’s gun laws, and I see them as criminally negligent, they represent the will of the people – Arizona residents and more broadly, American citizens.

The occasional mass shooting is a price Americans have proven willing to pay for the “right to bear arms”, again and again and again. Perhaps owning and carrying and shooting (or fantasizing about shooting) guns helps us get in touch with our inner Dirty Harrys. Or our inner Daniel Boones. More often, we are put in touch with our inner Aaron Burrs, or Alexander Hamiltons ... or Gabrielle Giffords.

The question of diagnosis and treatment of mental illness is not new, and anyone who has witnessed mental illness among family members, or friends, or in any other context, e.g. medical practice, law enforcement or simply in line at Starbucks, knows it is a complex and difficult issue. There are myriad manifestations of mental illness, nearly all relatively harmless to both the afflicted and those around him or her. Following incidents like the Loughner shooting, we frequently read comment from family members, friends and acquaintances, saying, “We had no idea.” And that’s the trouble: mental illness is for the most part invisible. Diagnosis is difficult. Treatment requires the cooperation of the afflicted, which sometimes is not forthcoming.

The Loughner attack WAS an isolated incident, and statistics prove that. Yes, mental health care is important. Yes, Arizona should take a hard look at the laws that enabled Loughner to purchase a weapon and empty a 31-bullet magazine. But is there something wrong with the Tucson community? No more than any other community of more than a few dozen people.

Jan 16, 2011, 4:56 pm
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I’ve lived in many cities across this country. Even after several years of living there, I moved away from each feeling no sense of community. Upon moving to Tucson, I found the difference….me. I’m a shy person and don’t want to “join” any clubs. But I began to seek out people with whom I could share time. Within weeks, I was going to events with my new friends. If you want community, you can have it. If you don’t, don’t. There is enough diversity in this town to find what you need. It’s up to you.

Jan 30, 2011, 10:55 am
-0 +0

Thank you for this brilliant piece of writing.
One dreads to ponder on how alone this troubled and disturbed young man felt in this desert of strangers before his awful rampage.

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