What About Loughner’s Parents?

Garance Franke-Ruta at the The Atlantic asks the question I alluded to yesterdayWhat About the Parents?

While on the one hand we have very little information upon which to base solid assessments, we do know that a) he lived at home, b) he clearly engaged in odd behavior (both online and not), and c) his parents knew that Pima Community College had insisted that he receive mental health care before being allowed to return to school.

Now, it is possible that his parents tried to help their son, but it is difficult not to wonder what they did, and did not, do.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Quick Takes, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Keep in mind that at 22, there’s nothing, other than kicking him out, that they can do without his cooperation.

  2. I take the point, but there are things one can do, even with an adult. And, further, one would think that since he was living in their home that that would increase their leverage.

    However, according to a WaPo report, they did have legal options (indeed, many people did):

    Arizona has what is considered one of the most progressive mental health laws in the country. Any person, including any of the students in Loughner’s classes who exchanged worried emails about his strange actions or any of his teachers who sought to have him removed or who wanted him to receive treatment, could have petitioned the court to have him evaluated for mental illness.

    Unlike other states, which require that someone be an imminent danger to themselves or others before seeking to have them involuntarily committed for psychiatric evaluation and treatment, in Arizona, one need only be “persistently or acutely” ill.

    Beyond that, it seems rather unlikely that Loughner’s problems only manifested once he hit the age of legal maturity.

  3. John Burgess says:

    Steven: Realistically, how many people (include yourself for the sake of argument) would take the time, effort, and expense to seek a court-ordered involuntary commitment of a neighbor or classmate?

    And what if your efforts–public information–did not avail? Do we expect people to willingly put themselves in a situation where there’s not only a disturbed individual at large, but one who’s pissed at you, specifically?

    Perhaps we should demand it of teachers or people in positions of authority rather than of neighbors or classmates. But then we slip right into the readily-abused ‘pre-crime’ story of thought-police.

  4. Arizona’s law seems to be going a bit far in the other direction. If someone is not a danger to themselves or others, I don’t really see a valid basis for confining them against their will.

  5. @John Burgess:

    The likelihood is that most people (myself included) would not go that route. Although I must confess I can conjure scenarios in which I might go to university officials to discuss the possibility of pursuing such an action as an institution.

    As a parent could I see myself going this route if my adult child refused help? Yes.

  6. @SD: The report speaks of a hearing, not confinement. One presumes the idea is to provide an opportunity to determine if treatment is needed.

    What if Loughner had been evaluated? Or Cho (the Va Tech shooter)?

  7. sam says:

    From what I’ve read (sorry, can’t recall where), his father seems to have problems of his own. And there’s the barricading the residence thing…

  8. sam says:

    Ah, found it:

    Some people who knew, or at least glimpsed, Mr. Loughner’s life at home with his parents, Randy and Amy Loughner, said they found the family inscrutable sometimes, and downright unpleasant at other times, especially the behavior of Randy Loughner.

    “Sometimes our trash would be out, and he would come up and yell that the trash stinks,” said a next-door neighbor, Anthony Woods, 19. “He’s very aggressive.”

    Mrs. Loughner has worked for the city’s Parks Department for many years, Tucson officials confirmed. Mr. Loughner’s employment, if any, was not known. Mr. Woods and his father, Stephen, 46, said they rarely saw the older Mr. Loughner go anywhere. [Source]

  9. What if Loughner had been evaluated? Or Cho (the Va Tech shooter)?

    1. Both of these individuals WERE dangerous to thelmselves and others, having had several violent outbursts prior to their rampages. So they’re not examples of a need for a lower standard.

    2. As I mentioned in the comments of another article here, making it easier to involuntarily commit people could actually make the problem worse. As with most forms of medical treatment, the earlier treatment for a mental illness is sought, the better the outcome is likely to be. By increasing the potential costs of voluntarily seeking treatment, you make it more likely people will wait until a crisis occurs to get help.

  10. Sage says:

    Perhaps the parents also have some form of mental illness that would make it difficult for them to rationally decipher their sons behavior and mental health as being ‘off the mark”…like the story of the “blind men and the elephant”.
    Why was the father not gainfully employed after Jared’s younger years?

  11. anjin-san says:

    > Keep in mind that at 22, there’s nothing, other than kicking him out, that they can do without his cooperation.

    I don’t know about Arizona law, but I have a lot of experience with this in California. If someone is delusional you can call the police and attempt to have them 5150ed. Not a slam dunk, some cops don’t want to deal with it and budget cuts have strained an already inadequate mental health system. The much hated “socialized medicine” is generally all that is available for the mentally ill, in the form of county psych wards and private hospitals that contract with the state.

    The system has failed to the point where it took my wife and I years of sustained effort to get a relative who is a paranoid schizophrenic in long-term hospitalization. If we had not had the financial resources to keep him off the street in the meantime, he would have simply become homeless and died, from drugs, exposure, homeless on homeless violence, or perhaps he would have been shot by the police. He came close once.

    Don’t be too quick to condemn the parents. Unless you have been through this living nightmare, you have no idea what it is like. And some folks on the right should keep in mind that the government healthcare they so despise is all that is standing between them, their families, and thousands of people who are very disturbed and very dangerous.