By DeWayne Wickham
John Hinckley may not be insane, but I think he’s still more than a bit crazy.
Insanity is a legal determination of mental unsoundness. Hinckley ambushed Ronald Reagan as he was leaving a Washington hotel 30 years ago. The hail of gunfire seriously wounded the president and three other men. A jury ultimately found Hinckley “not guilty by reason of insanity” and sent him off to a mental institution.
Crazy, to me, is a madness that falls short of the legal definition of insanity.
The government is trying to convince a federal judge that Hinckley, who was diagnosed as psychotic and narcissistic, should not be allowed to have longer, unsupervised visits to his aging mother’s Virginia home.
In 2009, that judge gave Hinckley permission to make 12 such visits of 10 days each. Now his doctors are asking approval for Hinckley to make two visits of 17-days; and six of 24-days duration. If they go well, they want the judge to give them the authority to permanently release him from the mental hospital.
But if what the Secret Service tells us about Hinckley’s recent behavior is true — he seems to be too disturbingly cunning to be set free. Instead of going to a movie as he was supposed to during a visit with his mother earlier this year, Hinckley slipped into a bookstore where Secret Service agents said they saw him looking at books on Reagan and presidential assassinations.
When his mother came back to pick him up, Hinckley was standing in the theater lobby as if he’d gone to a movie, according to the government’s account. Hinckley later compounded this deception by recommending the film he was supposed to have seen to hospital staffers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Chasson said during the court hearing on giving him more freedom of movement.
That sounds pretty narcissistic to me. Sure some people who are judged mentally incompetent can, with medication and the proper therapy, experience an improvement in their mental health. His doctor says Hinckley’s psychosis and narcissism have been in remission for years.
But it is also the case that the insane sometimes can appear deceivingly normal — or at least not insane. I don’t know into which category Hinckley rightly falls, but given his violent history it makes no sense to take an even greater chance with him. Allowing Hinckley to spend time with his 85-year-old mother, who could hardly be expected to properly monitor the actions of her now 56-year-old son, is a questionable test of his mental fitness.
Was Hinckley’s bookstore detour the action of a rational man who wanted to connect with his troubled past, or proof that he is still not fully sane? Does it suggest that he continues to think of himself, even if only fleetingly, like the mentally ill character he was obsessed with in the 1976 movie Taxi Driver – who wanted to kill the president? I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone else does. Not those who clamor for him to be allowed to spend more time outside the mental institution to which he was committed; nor those who argue against it.
Hinckley's deceptive viewing of books about presidential assassinations when he said he’d be at a movie suggests he needs more supervision — not less, because his actions say he could very well be crazy like a fox.