On the obstacles to dealing with someone exhibiting Jared Lee Loughner’s behavior:
Well, clearly, you can’t ask the owner of a gun shop to make that judgment. But I think generally speaking the Virginia Tech shooter had problems and fell through the cracks. In the case of Loughner we had a classmate who was e-mailing contemporaneously … that he [Loughner] was unstable and dangerous and imagined he was a guy who would come in and shoot up a class. She sat at the back of the class near the door so she would be the first one out.
This guy had five encounters with campus police. But as the campus police told the instructor of the algebra class: We can’t do anything until he does something.
That’s the problem with the liberty we have in the country and with the current standard. In the past, 50, 60 years ago, if you had a person who was disturbed and dangerous, you could involuntarily commit that person. In fact, I did just that in my days as a psychiatrist at the Mass[achusetts] General [Hospital].
The standard now is much, much higher and much more difficult, because we have a sense of [individual] autonomy … and want [government] to stay out of it. This is a guy that his classmates even suspected would end up a shooter — and yet you couldn’t do anything until he struck. Now, of course, it’s too late.
I think what you could do is have the federal government subsidize local law enforcement to have one or two people detailed to a congressman or woman who is out there in the street or in a [public] meeting. I think that would be a fairly limited amount of protection. It would be affordable, and I think at least for say, a trial period of a year or so, it would be worth proposing and trying out.