JARED LOUGHNER is not a well young man.
In 2007, while still a teenager, he was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. When he tried to join the US Army he was turned down because of an admitted cannabis habit.
Last October he was expelled from college after a series of classroom disruptions and increasingly weird behaviour on campus.
Pima Community College in Tucson had called in the police to take Loughner home to his parents. He was told he could return to his studies only after seeking the help of mental health professionals.
Just last month Loughner, now 22, wrote on his MySpace page: “I don’t feel good: I’m ready to kill a police officer!”
Yet none of this prevented him from walking into a shop in Tucson on November 30 and buying a Glock 19 semi-automatic pistol. Perfectly legally.
A gun like that is not a toy. Neither is it an appropriate weapon for hunting.
Evidence revealed by FBI investigators appears to show that Loughner bore a grudge against Gabrielle Giffords since 2007.
Giffords, who seems to be a strong, gifted and principled politician, is now in intensive care after being shot in the head at point-blank range.
The attack on her left six people dead and 13 others badly injured.
It has naturally led to fresh calls for stricter gun control across America.
Yet, incredibly, sales of high-capacity assault weapons such as the one used so devastatingly in Tucson at the weekend were banned by law. Until 2004.
Sarah Palin’s “cross-hairs” posters, which included one aimed at Congresswoman Giffords, and her inappropriate talk about “reloading” are a side-issue.
Of course they are offensive. Of course they could seen as incitement. It might even make sense to charge her with that offence.
One can certainly hope her career, and any danger of her one day becoming president, are now effectively over.
But this isn’t really about Palin. Even if Palin herself thinks everything is about her.
It’s about guns. And the way a rampant armaments industry has manipulated America, via a romanticised view of its history and “rights”, into a kind of addiction.
An addiction more pervasive than that to any drugs, bar alcohol and tobacco.
And vastly more dangerous.
There seems little realistic hope, however, that this latest sickening shooting will bring much sense to American gun laws.
The awful truth is that any attempt at prohibition is doomed to failure.
In the words of Bradley A Buckles, former director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives: “I don’t know what you could do. People are going to get guns and shoot people.
“There are 300 million guns out there. We are close to the end of where we can regulate guns.”
Close to it – or well beyond it?
It must be obvious to nearly everyone that Jared Loughner was too sick to be allowed to play with guns.
The same could be said of America itself.