Could tighter gun laws have saved lives in Tucson?
By Zachary Roth
By Zachary Roth zachary Roth –
Had the federal assault weapons ban, which Congress let expire in 2004 remained in effect, Saturday's shooting in Tucson would likely have killed and injured far fewer people. And if either Arizona or federal law made it harder for people with a history of mental health problems to get guns, then the suspect in the rampage might never have obtained a weapon.
Gun-control advocates are reminding lawmakers and the public of how readily disturbed shooters can obtain rapid-fire weaponry in a fresh push to tighten laws in the wake of the shooting, which killed 6 people and injured 14, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), who ran for Congress after her husband was shot and killed on a Long Island commuter train in 1994, has said she'll introduce legislation that targets high-capacity ammunition clips of the kind said to have been used in Tucson. As we've reported, law enforcement officials have said that the gun used in the shooting, a Glock 9mm, could hold about 30 or more rounds, two or three times a normal magazine capacity. And today they told NBC that the shooter got off at least 31 rounds.
The federal assault weapons ban, which passed in 1994 and expired in 2004, prohibited magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. Gun-control advocates say that had such clips still been outlawed, and therefore far harder to acquire, Saturday's shooting spree would likely have caused far less damage. The shooter would have had to stop to reload, allowing others to subdue him--the very scenario that occurred after he spent his first magazine.
"If he had a revolver or a knife or a clip under 10 rounds, a lot more people would be alive today, or not shot," Brian Malte of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told The Lookout.
Gun-control advocates also are pressing to get laws passed to make it harder for those with a history of mental health problems to get guns. Jared Loughner, the suspect in Saturday's shooting, had been kicked out of Pima Community College until a doctor could certify that he didn't pose a threat to himself or others there. But because a court hadn't found Loughner to be mentally ill -- the benchmark that federal law currently requires -- he would have passed the background check that he had to undergo to buy his Glock 9mm. Malte said that a push to broaden the federal mental health prohibition so it would apply to cases like Loughner's is now being considered.
Malte also argued that state gun laws need strengthening. California, he noted, allows law enforcement professionals to declare someone a danger to themselves or others, which then prevents them from getting a gun without an OK from a medical professional. It's possible, though by no means certain, that a similar system in Arizona -- which has some of the weakest gun laws in the nation -- would have prevented Loughner from getting a weapon. Aside from getting kicked out of school amid concerns over his mental health, he had also been arrested numerous times.
But Charles Heller of the Arizona Citizens Defense League, a gun-rights group, thinks tougher restrictions wouldn't help. "More laws equal more restrictions on people's ability to defend themselves," Heller told the LA Times.
"What happened at the Safeway plaza shows why it's so important for people to be armed," he said, "because evil is out there."
Support for gun control has waned in recent years. A Gallup poll from October 2010 found that just 44 percent of Americans favored stricter gun laws -- down from 78 percent in 1990.