Judge named for Jared Lee Loughner’s trial

The same San Diego-based federal judge who presided over the corruption trial of former Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham will handle the prosecution of Jared Lee Loughner, the man accused of killing six and wounding more than a dozen including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Saturday in Tucson, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals announced today.

Larry BurnsAll federal judges in Arizona had recused themselves from the case, as Chief District Judge John Roll as among the slain. U.S. District Judge Larry Alan Burns of California’s Southern District was appointed this afternoon by 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski.

Burns, 56, was nominated to the bench in May 2003 by President George W. Bush and was unanimously confirmed that September by the U.S. Senate. Besides the Cunningham case, other high-profile cases over which he as presided include the prosecution and sentencing of Javier Arellano-Felix, head of the Arellano-Felix drug cartel, on murder, drug trafficking and racketeering charges; and a challenge to the presence of a Latin cross on Mount Soledad in La Jolla.

Earlier, Burns was a U.S. Magistrate Judge in San Diego for six years; an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California from 1985 through 1997; and a San Diego County Deputy District Attorney from 1979 through 1985. As a prosecutor, he tried approximately 200 cases to jury verdicts and argued more than 40 cases before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. He also taught college, graduate school and law school courses for many years before going on the bench, and in 1996 was recognized by San Diego State University with the University’s Faculty Mentoring Award. He earned an undergraduate degree in 1976 from Point Loma College (now Point Lorna Nazarene University) and a law degree in 1979 from the University of San Diego School of Law.


Thoughts on the Arizona gunman and his gun

Brian Cook, press secretary to Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, posted this on his Facebook page earlier today, saying we should all take Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ words to heart; I thought it deserved re-posting here:

Agreed. But…

From all the media reports I’ve seen, this shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, is mentally ill. I do believe the violent incivility in our national discourse could have influenced him, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a clear cause and effect; this guy was clearly sick, and might well have found his inspiration to kill elsewhere. While I believe we need to tone down the rhetoric, I don’t think we can predict how what we say will guide the already unbalanced.

What I’m much more interested in is how someone who was clearly so mentally ill managed to go out and buy a handgun. The New York Times reports:

Most of the reports, according to Paul Schwalbach, a college spokesman, were about how Mr. Loughner was “acting out” in disruptive or inappropriate ways. By last fall, officials at the college had learned about an Internet video that Mr. Loughner had prepared citing Pima College and claiming that it was in some way illegal or unconstitutional.

The college had its lawyers review the video and decided at that point to take action, drafting a letter suspending Mr. Loughner, which was delivered to his parents’ home in northwest Tucson by two police officers on Sept. 29.

At a meeting in early October at the college’s northwest campus, where he attended classes, Mr. Loughner said he would withdraw. Three days later, the college sent him a letter telling him that if he wanted to return, he would need to undergo a mental health evaluation. “After this event, there was no further college contact with Loughner,” the college said in a statement.

And, according to another Times article, about two months after police had to convey the message that this apparently unbalanced individual was no longer welcome at a public college:

A few days after Thanksgiving last year, Mr. Loughner turned up at the Sportsman’s Warehouse in Tucson and bought a Glock semiautomatic gun, with serial number PWL 699.

Is it good public policy to let potentially violent, mentally ill people who’ve been brought to the police’s attention go buy guns? Also, as NPR reports, Arizona has some of the nation’s most lenient gun laws, so Loughner needed no additional permit to carry it concealed (not that a law would’ve stopped a mentally ill person bent on murder from doing so anyway).

I’m sure some commenters will say it would’ve infringed upon Loughner’s constitutional rights to deny him a handgun unless he’d already been committed or arrested, and perhaps that’s true. But I wonder whether, if his mental state already had necessitated police conveying him a message barring him from a public institution, perhaps there should be a legal mechanism in place to keep guns out of his hands. Should a mentally ill person’s Second Amendment rights outweigh the Creator-bestowed, unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness stolen from 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green and his other victims? Apparently our nation is OK with waging war to pre-empt terrorists’ violent attacks upon our populace; why not do all we can to minimize threats both foreign AND domestic?