Feature

Guns: Would tougher laws have prevented a massacre?

Since Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were gunned down in 1968, more than a million Americans have died of gunshots, in crimes, accidents, and suicides.

We still don’t know what was in Jared Lee Loughner’s mind during last weekend’s bloodbath in Arizona, said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post, but we know what was in his hand: a Glock 9 mm semiautomatic pistol, with a 31-round clip. Loughner was able to buy that “sleek, efficient killing machine” only because of “our nation’s insane refusal to impose reasonable controls on guns.” Someone as clearly deranged as Loughner should never have been allowed to buy a gun, said The New York Times in an editorial, and had Congress not allowed President Clinton’s Assault Weapons Ban to expire in 2004, he could not have bought the extended magazine that let him get off so many shots, so quickly, before brave bystanders tackled him as he reloaded. High-capacity clips have “absolutely no legitimate purpose outside of military or law-enforcement use” and should be banned again, immediately.

“No amount of gun control will stop people like Loughner getting guns,” said Erich Pratt in USA Today. Legal restrictions only serve to put the citizens who obey laws at the mercy of those who don’t. The most effective response to crimes like this is for more people to take up arms, so that when the next madman starts shooting, a citizen has the firepower to stop him. Even with the Assault Weapons Ban in place, said Kevin D. Williamson in National Review Online, Loughner could easily have bought a secondhand, 31-round clip. Or, failing that, he simply could have brought three guns, “or a pipe bomb, or a truck full of fertilizer.” Killers, history has shown, will always find a way to kill.

But guns make killing far too easy, which is why they are the madman and criminal’s weapon of choice, said Harold Evans in TheDailyBeast.com. The statistics are unambiguous. Thanks to the gun’s “unique utility for translating rage into instant killing,” the murder rate in the U.S. is orders of magnitude higher—5.28 murders per 100,000 citizens—than it is in Canada (0.47), Britain (0.06), or Australia (0.07), where there are much stricter gun-control laws. There actually was an armed citizen on the scene in Tucson, said William Saletan in Slate.com. Joe Zamudio bravely made his way toward the sound of shots with his own weapon drawn, saw a man with a gun, and shouted, “Drop it! Drop it!” As it turned out, the man with the gun had just wrestled it away from Loughner; Zamudio could easily have shot him or been mistaken for a killer himself, thus setting off an even more deadly firefight. “I was very lucky,” Zamudio said afterward. If the best response to gun violence is for citizens to shoot back, we’ll all be living in the Wild West, with bullets flying in classrooms and shopping malls and public streets, and lots of collateral casualties.

This argument is all academic, said Molly Ball in Politico.com, because nothing’s going to change. A decade ago, the events in Tucson might have resulted in a major push for new federal gun laws, but since then the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby have essentially won the debate over gun control. Polls show the public losing interest in the issue, and among politicians an NRA endorsement has become as coveted by Democrats as it once was for Republicans. Meanwhile, said Drew Westen in HuffingtonPost.com, Americans continue to die. Since Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were gunned down in that “terrible summer of 1968,” more than a million Americans have died of gunshots, in crimes, accidents, and suicides. “In most countries, we would call that genocide.”

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