Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Wed Jan 12th 2011 at 7:12pm UTC

A Canadian in Tucson

Wendy Waters comments on my Atlantic post on the Tucson shootings and the culture of honor.

I went to grad school in Tucson. Loved the city and region in so many ways. Gun violence perpetrated by the mentally ill was something that this Canadian found hard to get used to.

Although last week’s incident had more human victims, my sense from living there was that it wasn’t unusual to have someone suffering from a mental-illness issue wandering public places with a loaded gun.

One incident at the U of Arizona while I was there involved an individual walking into the grad student computer lab (at a time when I was usually there, but thankfully wasn’t this time), opening fire, missing all the people but destroying two computers, and then wandering down the main campus waving his gun before police grabbed him. It was never clear why he did this (hearing voices, maybe). Subsequent investigation revealed he had long been in treatment from mental illness, but that this did not prevent him from purchasing the firearm legally the previous week because mental health records cannot be used in background checks.

Yes this story is anecdotal but maybe the answer to why certain people in certain places commit these mass murders is a combination of less help for the mentally ill combined with slightly easier access to weapons.

3 Responses to “A Canadian in Tucson”

  1. Ray Says:

    Interestingly enough, I’m just listening to a radio interview on CBC with Steven Paige (late of the Bare Naked Ladies). The topic is mental illness and the woeful state of government support and public misinformation about it – 5% of funding vs 15% of health costs.

    In America, the situation is similar. Together with the ability to arm yourself like a SWAT team member as easily as it is to buy a jug of milk, makes for a very unstable and dangerous society as sadly evidenced this past weekend.

  2. Wendy Says:

    Michael Moore on twitter reminded everyone of his observation from Bowling for Columbine that guns don’t kill people, Americans kill people with guns (because gun ownership rates are reasonably high in other countries, but incidents like the one in Tucson are rare elsewhere).

    But I wonder if the difference is that fewer Canadians or Europeans with mental illness have access to guns.

    Friends in Canada with gun licenses have had to prove mental stability in order to be granted a license. One friend said the fire arms registry called his current employer, a past employer, his ex-girlfriend from 10 years ago as well as his wife, plus two neighbours and basically asked all of them if he’d ever had episodes of rage, irrationality, depression, etc. And only with all of them saying he’s fine, did he get his license to own a very basic hunting shot gun.

    Although the Canadian checks are probably excessive, the Tucson incidents (last week’s and my story from the 1990s), probably would not have happened had a few emloyers, neighbours, etc. been asked about the individual’s mental state.

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