by Max Brantley
Some other items from a resumption of news after the long holiday:
* LR COP RACKS UP OVERTIME: KATV continues it reporting on extraordinary overtime charges in the Little Rock Police Department.
Traffic cop Natasha Sims reported 2,224 hours of overtime in 2012, 700 hours more than the next closest officer, worth $91,473 in overtime pay, on top of $52,646 in regular pay, for a gross of $144,119 in a year in which she wrote hundreds of tickets. Chief Stuart Thomas explained the overtime by saying she'd been subpoenaed to appear in court 369 times on the tickets, appearances that all required overtime. My question: Does traffic court actually sit in session almost 43 hours every week for 52 weeks a year, which would have been necessary to generate the hours that Sims reported?I suggested back in November that new North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith should extend a hand to the North Little Rock School District by giving up Mayor Pat Hays' fight against the school district to preserve the Tax Increment Finance District he tried to create to annex school property taxes for downtown development. The TIF district was created improperly and Hays didn't stand a chance of winning the suit, but he had stubbornly refused to give up on it. Smith announced at his swearing-in yesterday that he would settle the lawsuit and had school people on hand to sing kumbaya on the new era in Dogtown. Good for Smith.
* EASE OFF THE FIRST AMENDMENT OR WE'LL KILL YOU: The New York newspaper that posted a map showing where pistol permit holders lived has hired armed security guards to protect its offices on account of "negative reactions" to the article. Yes, been there. My experience after linking the state's public list of concealed handgun permit holders (no map, however) included specific violent threats in anonymous phone calls to home and office and threatening messages on the Internet. But ... there was no physical followthrough, if that's any consolation to the people at the West Nyack, N.Y., Journal News.
UPDATE: Now it develops a county intends to flout the open records law and refuse access to its permits because it doesn't like how the newspaper used the information from other counties. The newspaper will go to court. AND MORE HERE on unhinged reactions by the gun nuts.
SPEAKING OF GUNS: Gene Lyons' column this week is on the subject of the NRA. It's on the jump and deals with the NRA's demonization of people with mental illness.
By Gene Lyons
Of all the outrages to decency and common sense during National Rifle Association president Wayne LaPierre’s bizarre press conference following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, the most offensive may have been his depiction of America as a dark hell haunted by homicidal maniacs.
“The truth,” LaPierre insisted, “is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters—people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them. They walk among us every day. And does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn’t planning his attack on a school he’s already identified at this very moment?”
Monsters, evil, possessed. Demons, for the love of God.
Is this the twenty-first century, or the seventeenth? In LaPierre’s mind, like many adepts of the gun cult, it follows that every grown man and woman must equip themselves with an AR-15 semi-automatic killing machine with a 30-round banana clip to keep monsters out of elementary schools. “Die Hard: With a Blackboard.”
To be fair, polls show that most gun owners support reasonable reforms like closing the “gun show” loophole allowing no-questions-asked sales that evade FBI background checks. It may be politically possible to ban high-capacity magazines and to reinstate something like the assault weapons ban allowed to expire in yet another of President George W. Bush’s many gifts to the nation.
That these actions would have limited short term effect is no reason not to act. Nobody’s Second Amendment rights would be compromised either. America can’t achieve sensible gun laws without first politically isolating extremists.
But there’s another way that LaPierre’s appalling rhetoric helps make a bad situation worse. Loose talk about possession and demons serves only to deepen the stigma and shame surrounding mental illness and contributes to society’s refusal to deal seriously with its effects.
Newtown mass shooter Adam Lanza hasn’t been, and probably can’t be, diagnosed with any certainty. But all the signs point to paranoid schizophrenia, a devastating brain disease whose victims are no more possessed by demons than are cancer patients or heart attack survivors.
Psychiatrist Paul Steinberg writes that early signs of the disease “may include being a quirky loner—often mistaken for Asperger’s syndrome,” the less stigmatizing diagnosis Nancy Lanza reportedly told friends accounted for her son’s peculiarities.
Schizophrenia is a physiological disorder of the prefrontal cortex of the brain, resulting in disordered and obsessive thinking, auditory hallucinations and other forms of psychosis. Sufferers often imagine themselves to have a special connection with God or some other powerful figure. It’s when they start hearing command voices telling them to avenge themselves upon imagined enemies that terrible things can happen.
Ronald Reagan’s would-be assassin John Hinckley, Jr. suffers from schizophrenia; also John Lennon’s killer Mark David Chapman. More to the point, rampage shooter Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech in 2007, had been in and out of treatment for paranoid schizophrenia, but never hospitalized for long enough to bring him back to reality.
Nobody knew what to do about Jared L. Loughner, who killed six people while attempting to murder Rep. Gabby Giffords in Tucson. Same disease. After James Holmes began showing signs of advancing psychosis, University of Colorado officials more or less, well, “washed their hands of him” would be a judgmental way to put it. Then he killed 24 strangers attending a Batman movie in Aurora, CO. He reportedly mailed a notebook describing his mad plans to a university psychiatrist, which she received only after the fact.
With the possible exception of Lanza, all of these killers had exhibited overt symptoms of psychosis previous to their explosive criminal acts. They belonged in lock-down psychiatric hospitals under medical treatment—whether voluntarily or not. Nobody in Seung-Hui Cho or James Holmes’ state of mind can meaningfully decide these things for themselves.
Properly speaking, psychosis has no rights.
Yet the biggest reason people don’t act is that for practical purposes, ill-considered laws make involuntary commitment somewhere between difficult and impossible. Sources told New York Times columnist Joe Nocera that Connecticut makes it so hard to get somebody committed to a psychiatric hospital against their will that Nancy Lanza probably couldn’t have done anything had she tried. (And risked antagonizing her son in the process.)
“The state and federal rules around mental illness,” Nocera writes “are built upon a delusion: that the sickest among us should always be in control of their own treatment, and that deinstitutionalization is the more humane route.”
A liberal delusion, mainly. The good news is that anti-psychotic medications work; diseased minds can be treated. Putting somebody into a psychiatric ward for 30 days shouldn’t be as simple as a 911 call, but neither should it require the near-equivalent of a criminal trial.
Just as with gun control, lives hang in the balance.