Would Stricter Gun Control Have Saved Lives in Arizona?

Jared Loughner used a 32-round semiautomatic handgun in his attack on Rep. Giffords and her constituents. The magazine -- as well as the weapon itself -- were illegal until 2004, when Congress failed to renew the assault-weapons ban. As Mark Kleiman notes, this made a difference:

Still, this is a case where excessively loose controls permitted avoidable violence. The shooter hadn’t been convicted of any crime or been officially judged a risk to others due to his mental-health problems, but there’s no way he could have passed even a cursory training program for concealed carry; he couldn’t even get through a community-college algebra class without being spotted as a dangerous person. Arizona is one of only three states to allow concealed carry without a special permit. 

But even assuming that he would have simply ignored that law, there’s no reason to think that he would have been sufficiently dedicated or knowledgeable to acquire an illegal high-capacity magazine. If he’d had only 10 rounds in his clip rather than 32, some of his victims would be alive and unhurt.

Reading about Arizona's gun laws, it is actually shocking how lax they are. At 18, most firearms are available for purchase, and at 21, Arizona allows those of age or older to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. Gun owners can carry weapons in most establishments -- including bars and restaurants -- and the state exempts from regulations weapons that are made and kept in the state.

By law, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System for gun purchases includes criminal and mental health information, but only for those committed to an institution or found mentally deficient in court. After his removal, Loughner's community college required a mental-health examination for readmission, but that record would have never found its way into the NICS, as Arizona hasn't expanded the breadth of its background checks.

Kleiman is right: Stricter gun-control laws may not have kept Loughner from shooting the congresswoman, but they may have saved bystanders from injury and death. If there is a policy response to this, it should come in the form of Arizona-based efforts to strengthen gun-control laws. It doesn't violate the Second Amendment to keep semiautomatic weapons away from the mentally ill.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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