Even when actions defy logic, we still want the answer to one question: Why?

Why did a gunman open fire at a supermarket and kill six people? Why did he shoot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the head? Why did he do it?

We seek answers where sometimes there are none to find.

The immediate reaction of some has been to point to the poisonous atmosphere that has engulfed Arizona and the nation.

Gun imagery, talk of "targeting" elected officials and taking out political opponents have become pervasive. The bitter 2010 election turned up the volume. Demonizing people who have different opinions makes for easy media punditry and cheap entertainment.

It needs to stop. Trafficking in violent imagery and treating any person, whether an elected official or someone who supports a particular cause, as objects makes them almost an abstract. It's too easy to hate an abstract.

Whether or not the gunman was motivated by a particular political ideology or pumped up by the trash that passes for discourse is, in the most fundamental way, immaterial.

And it's not the reason to stop the pervasive and corrosive rhetoric. The reason is so much simpler - the demonizing is tearing apart our country from within. When we see each other as the enemy, we cannot rise above and come together for the greater good.

It shouldn't take a massacre for us to talk to each other instead of only about each other.

And it would be easier to understand the tragedy if we could point to something specific, some reason - however flawed - for why a young man targeted a public servant for assassination, and killed and wounded others.

But that's a rational response to an irrational situation.

So we must look at the whole picture. Jared Lee Loughner, charged in the attack, appears to have a history of mental illness. He had public outbursts and was told by Pima Community College that he could not return without a mental-health evaluation and clearance from a professional. He left school instead.

Did anyone try to get him help? Did they try and fail? Why couldn't this have been prevented? Putting the pieces together after the fact makes for a much more disturbing, complete picture than what might have been known before Saturday morning.

But if these questions are familiar, they are not new.

The same shock and disbelief welled up in the fall of 2002 when Robert S. Flores, a University of Arizona nursing student, brought a gun to campus and murdered three faculty members before killing himself.

Why did this happen - how could it happen - we all asked aloud in 2002.

Why didn't anyone see what could happen and stop a volatile man who so clearly was disturbed?

The same questions persist.

The answers aren't easy. In Arizona, people can't be forced to accept mental-illness treatment - and even if they seek it, state budget cuts have made it difficult to access.

In Arizona the court can commit a person who is "persistently or acutely disabled or is gravely disabled and in need of treatment, and is either unwilling or unable to accept voluntary treatment."

A parent can't commit an adult child, for example, unless specific conditions are met. What seems so clear needed to be done in hindsight isn't necessarily possible before tragedy happens.

Arizona's laws on intervention and treatment for mental illness must be examined and, almost certainly, reformed.

Arizona's gun laws are another facet of this terrible situation. The gun Loughner is accused of using was legally purchased. He did not fail a background check and was allowed to carry a weapon concealed or in the open.

Arizona's gun laws and their premise need thorough examination. It's too easy to access weapons in our state, and the consequences are too dear.

The Star editorial board will explore both of these issues in the coming weeks and months.

As the grieving continues, we must still seek answers.

Arizona Daily Star