Gun Control Couldn't Have Stopped It: The Tucson Massacre Should Not Lead to New Restrictions on Firearms

By Doherty, Brian | Reason, April 2011 | Go to article overview

Gun Control Couldn't Have Stopped It: The Tucson Massacre Should Not Lead to New Restrictions on Firearms


Doherty, Brian, Reason


A VERY PUBLIC shooting spree, with victims including a congresswoman, a judge, and a little girl, committed by a known lunatic, using equipment that had until recently been banned: Jared Loughner's crime seems an unparalleled opportunity for gun control advocates to gin up support for new legislation to restrict the weapons legally available to Americans and to restrict which Americans will have access to those weapons.

Loughner reportedly used a Glock 19 pistol with 33-round magazines. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) therefore wants to restore a provision of the Clintonera "assault weapon" ban that prohibited the manufacture or sale of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. McCarthy's proposal would toughen the expired law's requirements by prohibiting the importation or transfer of ownership of existing high-capacity magazines as well. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) intends to sponsor similar legislation in the Senate.

Meanwhile, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) has called for a ban on possessing weapons within 1,1000 feet of a member of Congress. He didn't explain how such a rule would be enforced, given that politicians tend to move around. His law would do more to make meet-the-public events of the sort where Rep. Giffords was wounded legally untenable than it would to prevent a would-be assassin from getting close.

But Americans' attitudes toward gun laws have shifted since the mid-'90s, when Congress passed the now-expired "assault weapon" ban and the Brady Act, which instituted a federal background check for every potential gun buyer, to ensure that they were disqualified from gun ownership for such things as a criminal record, being an illegal alien, having been dishonorably discharged from the military, or having been adjudicated mentally ill.

At the start of the 1990s, according to Gallup polls, 78 percent of Americans wanted stricter gun control; by 2009 that number had fallen to a historical low of 44 percent. As Americans' attitudes have shifted, at the national level, even Democrats have mostly avoided trying to expand gun control. (Some Democratic pols blame the Clinton-era gun control programs for Gore's defeat in key southern states in 200.) Despite the McCarthy and King bills, no one thinks Loughner's crimes are going to change that. And they shouldn't.

Loughner's shooting spree was an outlier. The constant expansion in gun ownership (with the number of new firearms entering American possession averaging around 4 million a year) and expanded rights to legally carry weapons have been accompanied by a 41 percent decline in violent crime rates over the past two decades. …

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Gun Control Couldn't Have Stopped It: The Tucson Massacre Should Not Lead to New Restrictions on Firearms
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