On January 8th, 2011, at approximately ten o’clock in the morning, alleged gunman Jared Lee Loughner approached United States Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona) during a public political event held at a Safeway in Tucson, Arizona. At that time, Loughner shot Congresswoman Giffords in the head. Then Loughner turned his weapon on several citizens standing in a line to meet Giffords and indiscriminately shot them. According to the Washington Post, Loughner allegedly discharged approximately 31 rounds in 15 seconds, killing six and wounding 13 people before witnesses tackled him to the ground.

The alleged actions of Jared Lee Loughner created a political windstorm in regards to gun laws, mental health care and political rhetoric accountability and responsibility. Yet, nagging questions still linger; why did Loughner do it? Is he a terrorist or just a lunatic with a gun? With all of this in mind, it begs the question; was the Tucson shooting an act of domestic terrorism or the acts of an emotionally disturbed person?

In order to assume the appropriate socially required label for this event, several key components must be examined. First, Loughner’s mental culpability (mens rea) has to be considered. Mental culpability refers to the mindset of the individual perpetrating the act –whether he or she knowingly, intentionally, negligently or recklessly commits a crime.

According to the timeline released by authorities, the night before and the morning of the shooting, Loughner was busy. He dropped off film at a Walgreens and checked himself into a Motel 6. He posted a statement on Myspace telling his friends not to hate him and eventually made his way to a Wal-Mart, at which time he purchased ammunition and a black bag (Nakamura, Horwitz, Hedgpeth, 2011).

Shortly thereafter, Jared Loughner summoned a taxicab that picked him up at a Circle K and drove him to the Safeway. Upon arrival, the taxi driver and Loughner enter the Safeway together, at approximately 09:54 am, in order for Loughner to break a $20.00 bill to cover his taxi fare (Nakamura, et al., 2011).

The Washington Post reported that Loughner was seen in security videos exiting the store and intentionally circling back around towards Congresswoman Giffords’ public event. The security video showed how Loughner quickly approached Giffords with the firearm in his hand next to his leg. Loughner knowingly raised the firearm and shot Giffords in the face, just above the left eye, from less than 3 feet away. After which, Loughner turned his firearm on the attendees and intentionally shot them until he was subdued, by witnesses, while attempting to re-load his firearm (Nakamura, Horwitz, Markon, 2011)

The image conjured up by the published timeline is that of a calculated and premeditated act of violence, not the crazed psychotic lone gunman on the brink of a mental collapse first reported. It is, of course, important to consider Loughner’s “bizarre” behavior months, if not years, before this event. However, Loughner’s behavior, actions and decisions the night before and the morning of the shooting indicate that his mental culpability was knowingly and intentionally to commit this crime.

It should be noted: on 01/19/2011, ABC News created a virtual re-enactment video depicting Loughner’s deliberate actions during his shooting rampage. The video was constructed from the images captured by several security cameras in the immediate area: Jared Lee Loughner Surveillance Re-Enactment in Virtual Reality 1/19/2011 .

Secondly, in order to label an act an act of “domestic terrorism”, it is imperative to know the legal definition of “domestic terrorism.” According to the United States Criminal Code: Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 113B, Section 2331 defines the term “domestic terrorism” to mean activities that:

(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
(B) appear to be intended
(1) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(2) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
(3) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States (Cornell Law School, n.d.).

The first element required is an act dangerous to human life in violation of federal or state law. Jared Loughner allegedly shot 19 people, in which 6 were killed, thus fulfilling the first required element.

Next, the act appears to be intended to influence government policy by intimidation. The act of an attempted assassination of a US Congresswoman is, in itself an intimidating act. Furthermore, Loughner’s self published rhetoric regarding how US currency is not legitimate, he will be the treasurer of a new currency, how words have no meaning, rants about the US government’s involvement in the September 11th terrorist attacks, as well as how the US government was trying to trick him (New York Times, 2011) reflects discontent with the current government policy and wanting change.

Additionally, on Loughner’s personal youtube channel he declares “I define [a] terrorist”. He writes: “…a terrorist is a person who employs terror or terrorism, especially as a political weapon.” This “self-determined” declaration increases the probability that the shooting rampage was a premeditated act.

The third element, to affect the conduct of a government by assassination is not a required element, but simply an additional category for an act to fall within. In this incident, Loughner’s attempted assassination of Giffords is self-explanatory and all “normal” political conduct came to an abrupt halt directly after the incident. Lastly, the act took place on US soil.

In the final analysis, Loughner’s actions indicate that he knowingly and intentionally shot US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the additional 18 victims. This act exudes a warped perversion of political ideology and motivation.

Also, according to the United States Criminal Code’s definition of “domestic terrorism”, this act fulfilled the required elements to be labeled “domestic terrorism.” Therefore, based on the totality of the circumstances and the known facts surrounding this case at the time of writing, Jared Lee Loughner is a terrorist and is responsible for committing an act of “domestic terrorism” in Tucson, Arizona.

References

ABC News. (2011, January 19) Jared lee loughner surveillance re-enactment in virtual reality. ABC News. Retrieved fromhttp://youtu.be/C4oZQxtSBow

Cornell University Law School. (n.d.) Title 18: Legal information institute. Retrieved from http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/uscode18/usc_sec_18_00002331—-000-.html

Nakamura, D., Horwitz, S., Hedgpeth, D. (2011, January 19) In videos, details of shooting emerge. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/18/AR2011011806483.html

Nakamura, D., Horwitz, S., Markon, J. (2011, January 15) Police depict a busy, focused loughner on morning of shooting. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/14/AR2011011404927.html

New York Times. (2011, January 19) Jared Lee Loughner. New York Times. Retrieved from http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/l/jared_lee_loughner/index.html?scp=2&sq=loughner%20postings&st=cse