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David Frum Tries to Blame Pot for Tucson Shooting: What Is He Smoking?

When a prominent columnist with decades of experience so rashly tries to deflect public attention from a staggering tragedy toward a scape goat, what you're smelling is his credibility going up in smoke.
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After seeking to separate Sarah Palin's out-sized persona from the horrific reality of a gunman opening fire in a Safeway parking lot, I hoped for similar entreaties for perspective from mainstream columnists -- particularly Beltway conservatives who were never so big on guns, and prefer to stir debate, but avoid fights.

So in those shocking few hours following the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the slaying of six others, after all news outlets had erroneously reported Giffords' death, it should be obvious professional journalism to learn more about developing details surrounding the suspect in custody. The media was still reporting that Jared Loughner may not have acted alone, until police stated that the second person of interest turned out to be the cab driver that dropped Loughner off there.

As is wont in cliché reporting, the suspect's reading list from his MySpace page seemed to portend insight into the killer's thinking. But that his favorite books include To Kill a Mockingbird, Fahrenheit 451, Animal Farm, portends that the Tucson public school reading curriculum is like a lot of schools, more than anything.

Then there's always the Mein Kampf angle, which Loughner also reportedly read. Every time I hear a gunman who read Mein Kampf, I think, "Man, I gotta read that book to see how it makes people so crazy!" But then I'm afraid that someday, in some context, someone will be able to report about me: "Well, he DID read Mein Kampf," which meant I had to be crazy and agreed with it since I read it, and would no longer continue to think for myself. I'm surprised Catcher in the Rye is still taught in schools, because serial killers adore it so. Point is, just like you can't judge a book by its cover, you can't judge a person by what books they've read. (Unless you're the FBI under Hoover or Nixon.)

Developing details from the police investigating Loughner's home revealed that he had been eying Rep. Gabrielle Giffords for years. This wasn't indiscriminate shooting, it was political, it was planned, and Loughner had a history of being turned down by the military and ejected from class for disruptive behavior. People find justification for their ideas every day. This wasn't an impulse. No one told Jared Loughner to start shooting as a solution to anything -- it was his idea and he didn't share it with anyone beforehand. No matter the idea source, you have to treat and help those disturbed people who are getting these deranged ideas.

Which I'm sure was exactly what David Frum had at heart when he wrote a quick article assigning blame for the violent rampage on Loughner having used marijuana, at some point.

The Tucson shooting should remind us why we regulate marijuana.

Jared Lee Loughner, the man held as the Tucson shooter, has been described by those who know as a "pot smoking loner."

He had two encounters with the law, one for possession of drug paraphanalia.

We are also learning that Loughner exhibited signs of severe mental illness, very likely schizophrenia.

This is like attacking the cab driver that drove him there. Loughner took a cab. Lots of people take cabs. But they don't take cabs to get dropped off at their own shooting sprees.

The climate of Right Wing paranoia has been a loud, repetitive, deafening drumbeat since Obama came into office. The violent and false rhetoric that assailed Obama's first basic attempts to govern had to top its own sensationalism to stay relevant.

The degree between what people like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin put out and what psychopaths feed to their own actions is going to be very closely followed from this point. While this murderer took it upon himself to start firing, I'm uncertain how much he was fueled by ideas as he was by emotions -- like the kind of emotions that Beck and Palin routinely express as part of their act: indignant outrage, alienation, conspiracies that don't make sense, paranoia, acting out against imagine targets. It's no wonder a mentally ill individual, particularly one at an age where schizophrenia tends to become evident, might empathize with these voices. Perhaps it is the staged hysteria more than ideology that gets the Loughner-types going.

Which is why this is such a complicated debate to wade into. Many people can't help but personalize this shocking tragedy. While the killer had political opinions, it should not be made out that he was on someone's side. Oversimplifying or politicizing this massacre is not the responsible, reasonable, or helpful thing to do in the wake of such a raw issue, with six dead, including a little girl, and a member of Congress still fighting for their life.

Unless you're David Frum, who noted a minor charge on the suspect's police record for possession of marijuana paraphernalia and based a headline tastefully titled "Did Pot Trigger Giffords Shooting?":

The connection between marijuana and schizophrenia is both controversial and complicated. The raw association is strong:

  • Schizophrenics are twice as likely to smoke marijuana as non-schizophrenics.
  • People who smoke marijuana are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia as those who do not smoke.

But is correlation causation?

Increasingly experts seem to be saying: "Yes."

By his own admission, Frum identifies the connection as controversial and complicated. So he wastes no time in his diagnosis that this proves that marijuana laws are needed so that mentally ill people don't get drugs that may agitate their mental illness.

The fallacies are painful. For one, the pot smokers are clearly already getting it anyway, despite laws. For another, the people in the study he is citing with increased symptoms of schizophrenia already had schizophrenia. For promoting the direct causation of schizophrenia from marijuana, Frum should have at least included a link to "Reefer Madness."

It'd be just as easy for the uninformed proponent to offer all the potential solutions that marijuana use could have theoretically offered Loughner: he could have gotten lost at the Safeway looking for the Pringles; he might have spaced on bringing bullets; he might have worked out his issues instead with "Grand Theft Auto"; or he might have had the stoned epiphany that stalking and assassinating a member of Congress is messed up and watched Adult Swim instead.

But the thing is, there's more to marijuana and mental illness than this. Anti-psychotic medication might have helped prevent Loughner from acting out, and health care that treats everybody can help detect individuals with serious issues. Marijuana helps a lot of people with a lot of medical issues, but it can't be assumed to be safe for everyone.

Nonetheless, there's more to this shooting rampage than weed, and David Frum knows this. It's just so striking that he would make such a quick, pale attempt at diversion from the real debate roiling our country. Is it reported whether a mass killer drank alcohol at some point, or presented as motive for a long-running plot?

Why is Frum so afraid of the much larger story happening before us? Perhaps because he has been part of the Beltway establishment that ushered in the crazy talk under Obama like it was part of the meditative discourse, and in the back of his head, he always feared it would come to this, no matter how elaborate his rationale.

Even now, Frum is struggling to rewrite what Sarah Palin should have said, "at a moment when Palin had been handed perhaps her last clear chance to show herself presidentially magnanimous." The way Frum wrung his hands when Sarah Palin resigned as governor in a flurry of blame salad, he still hoped she could become a Goldwater figure. (Another guy from Arizona not so hip with the direction of racial awareness in America.)

This is the problem. People like Frum flail about in justification and active fabrication of political storylines, in dogged determination no matter how opposite the reality, or appalling. They are fully aware that these grandiose characterizations are to be believed by others, and that violent rhetoric is part of the red meat you offer the kinds of people who show up in crowds that are angry about something.

Sarah Palin didn't shoot those people. Besides, as we know from her own reality show, it takes her a number of shots to actually hit anything. And where her reality show can't hide the glaring image failures, nor can Frum, who pleads for Sarah to turn back time and play the photo-ops he would have, like laying flowers at Giffords office (again making it about Palin?) and literally offering her links he found to help her cram on mental health. If Frum himself did not feel that Sarah Palin was culpable in some way, seriously -- would he be in such desperate damage control mode?

David Frum perhaps needs to loosen up somehow. Maybe if he were to smoke pot and have a stoned epiphany about what was really going on in this shocking tragedy, he'd ponder the lives lost instead of how to spin them, how we got here, what is at stake, and what he can offer at this dark time. And he might even realize the simple truth: bong hits don't kill people, bullets do.

When a prominent columnist with decades of experience so rashly tries to deflect public attention from a staggering tragedy toward a scape goat, what you're smelling is his credibility going up in smoke.