True Threats

What do we know for sure about the tragic Tucson shooting? The intended target for assassination was a Jewish Blue Dog Democrat, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The weapon used was a 9-millimeter Glock that can carry a 30-bullet clip. The semi-automatic weapon was lawfully bought and carried in a concealed manner in Tucson, Arizona.

Murder was planned and premeditated by Jared Loughner. Right before committing his atrocity, Loughner posted on MySpace, "Goodbye friends, please don't be mad at me." That MySpace page also revealed Mein Kampf, along with the Communist Manifesto, as two of Loughner's favorite books. Both those books led to the deaths of millions of people, including many millions of executed Jews as anti-Semitism reached crazy levels.

Jared Loughner is undoubtedly mentally disturbed, but in my opinion unlikely to be determined to not guilty by reason of Insanity. Based on his above quote, an Arizona jury will likely conclude that Loughner knew right from wrong. Loughner does not appear to have been psychotic or delusional. He knew what weapon he had in his hand, and that Gabby Giffords was a Congresswoman, surrounded by other human beings.

The death penalty should be sought and imposed. The presumptive penalty for a single premeditated murder is life in prison. That sort of sentence is inadequate to redress this abomination. A civilized society cannot allow free unsanctioned murders. After his first killing, Loughner decided to take many more lives. Loughner should suffer the same fate as fellow mass murderer Timothy McVeigh.

Gabby Giffords eloquently read the First Amendment on the floor of the House late last week. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Those powerful words certainly resonate now.

A lot has been made of the peaceable assembly portion, but it is free speech and free press that are the concepts sure to be most tested now. Some media members are apologizing for anything that might have led followers to violence while denying that their rhetoric is as bad as their ideological opponents. Sarah Palin and Markos Moulitsas have scrubbed their web sites. Gabby Giffords was a mainstream moderate who warned that there are "consequences to that action," in reference to Palin's bullseye map.

Words matter. Words can be incredibly powerful. Words matter on the internet, in publications, and when broadcast. There should be almost no restrictions. But overt threats of violence can and must be punished. Such expressions go beyond the protections of the First Amendment.

Our society needs to sanction words designed to induce personal fear of violence. Too often, law enforcement has better things to do than chase down every communicated threat. If Loughner made death threats before, as reported by bumbling Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, why was he not arrested and prosecuted for doing so?

The Ninth Circuit (which includes Arizona) addressed the issue not so long ago. A "true threat" is "a statement which, in the entire context and under all the circumstances, a reasonable person would foresee would be interpreted by those to whom the statement is communicated as a serious expression of intent to inflict bodily harm upon that person." "It is not necessary that the defendant intend to, or be able to carry out his threat; the only intent requirement for a true threat is that the defendant intentionally or knowingly communicate the threat."

Threatening somebody is a form of terrorism. Many killers make serious death threats before carrying out actual homicides. It is critical that we start thinking more seriously about how to arrest people who make serious violent threats.

Jared Loughner's atrocity will trigger lots of talk on the Caplis and Silverman Show this week and for many months to come. Gun control, capital punishment and limitations on free speech will be among the many topics that must be discussed on the internet, talk radio, and in our nation's Capitol. We need to find ways to stop the Jared Loughners of this world before they ruin it for others.