But while Arizona makes it easier than any other state to forcibly commit a mentally ill person, experts are highly skeptical that Loughner would have qualified. “Bizarre behavior isn’t enough,” says Appelbaum. “Lots of people exhibit bizarre behavior and never harm a fly.” Loughner’s reported penchant for laughing inappropriately in class, keeping his head down when neighbors greeted him on the street, wearing a hoodie in summer, making incoherent comments in class, laughing to himself, going on antigovernment rants about U.S. currency—as The Daily Beast reported—almost certainly would not have sufficed. “The students even said they were afraid that he’d bring a gun to class,” adds Appelbaum. “But in a gun-friendly state like Arizona, that wouldn’t have been nearly enough.”
After a horror like the Tucson massacre, hindsight bias leads acquaintances to recall all sorts of warning signs, says Pitt. “But I promise you that’s only a fraction of the behavioral information that will come out” about Loughner, he says. “Do I think it’s more likely than not that this was a troubled individual? Absolutely. But whether he should have been involuntarily committed, we just don’t know.” “Should have” and “would have” are two very different beasts, however, and even in Arizona—where it’s easier to do so than in any other state—it’s unlikely that courts would have committed Loughner.