The "tone" of our politics has become so inflamed, they lament. But they really don't mean "our" politics; they mean conservatism. There was no hand-wringing by liberals during the past decade when leftist protesters routinely shouted for George W. Bush's blood (see Binscorner.com). Look, the world would be a better place if everyone toned down the vitriol -- but it wouldn't make a particle of difference when it comes to gun violence.
And that's what is being obscured by this focus on political rhetoric. We do have a serious problem with gun violence. We have a particular problem with unbalanced people who decide to shoot up a school or shopping mall or political event to achieve -- however fleetingly -- fame. Some part of the blame for this sickness must be laid at the feet of the media, whose blanket coverage of such events encourages the lunatics.
Another part of the blame may belong to an entertainment culture that glorifies and glamorizes gun violence. Every society has mentally ill people. But the way paranoid schizophrenics and other mentally impaired people choose to behave is influenced by culture.
Neither of those aspects of our society is likely to change. But a third feature -- our legal framework for handling those who resist treatment -- can and should change. Widespread deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, along with laws that require a showing of dangerousness before a person can be involuntarily subjected to treatment, make it exceedingly difficult to stop a crazed gunman before his murderous spree.
In the Tucson case, as in the Virginia Tech case, others noticed the gunmen's oddity in advance but were unable to force them to get treatment. According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, assisted outpatient treatment laws, if enforced, can radically reduce the number of hospitalizations, incarcerations, and violent episodes among those required to participate.
A misplaced respect for personal autonomy -- the right to reject treatment -- arguably carries too high a price, particularly now when pharmacological treatment is so benign, and when the kinds of crimes committed by the untreated mentally ill are so heinous.
That's the discussion we should be having.