Firearms regulations

Passionate Arizona gun culture, permissive laws stand out in US

By Jo Becker and Michael Luo
New York Times / January 11, 2011

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TUCSON — “I have a Glock 9 millimeter, and I’m a pretty good shot.’’

The quip, by Representative Gabrielle Giffords, was made in an interview last year with The New York Times, when tensions were running high in her district. It speaks not only to her ability to defend herself but also to the passionate gun culture in Arizona, which crosses political lines and is notable for its fierceness, even in the West.

Indeed, the federal judge who was killed on Saturday in the shootings here, John M. Roll, had his wife and many people who worked with him take lessons at the Marksman Pistol Institute, an indoor range downtown. One of the doctors who operated on Giffords after the shooting rampage was a member of the Pima Pistol Club, an outdoor range where federal and local law enforcement personnel were practicing yesterday.

Arizona’s gun laws stand out as among the most permissive in the country. Last year, Arizona became only the third state that does not require a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

The state also enacted another measure that allowed workers to take their guns to work, even if their workplaces banned firearms, as long as they kept them in their locked vehicles.

In 2009, a law went into effect allowing people with concealed-weapons permits to take their guns into restaurants and bars.

It is unclear whether Saturday’s attack will do anything to shift attitudes about guns in this state. But at the federal level, gun control advocates have quickly zeroed in on the “high-capacity’’ ammunition magazine used by the suspect, Jared L. Loughner.

Gun magazines that hold more than 10 rounds were banned under a federal assault weapons statute until it expired at the end of 2004. Today, just six states and the District of Columbia limit the sale of such magazines.

The magazine of Loughner’s semiautomatic pistol held more than 30 rounds when, law enforcement officials say, he opened fire on a crowd outside a Tucson supermarket.

It was only when he stopped to reload that bystanders were able to subdue him.

“The reason he was able to be tackled was he had to pause to reload,’’ said Dennis Henigan, vice president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a group that works to change gun laws and the gun industry. “The problem is, he didn’t have to pause to reload until he’d already expended 30 rounds.’’

Representative Carolyn McCarthy, Democrat of New York, is preparing legislation to prohibit high-capacity magazines and could introduce a measure this week, said Shams Tarek, a spokesman.

Tarek said McCarthy’s office had been in talks with the staff of Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, about working together on the issue. “We’re trying to come up with something that’s reasonable, that has a chance to go somewhere,’’ Tarek said.

Public support for stricter gun control, however, has dropped significantly over the last couple of decades, and there is little evidence to suggest that mass shootings change opinions.

Loughner legally bought his Glock 19 on Nov. 30 at Sportsman’s Warehouse in Tucson. It is the same type of 9-millimeter pistol that Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech gunman, used, according to law enforcement officials.

FBI agents visited local gun ranges here yesterday, trying to reconstruct his movements after he bought his gun. At the Marksman Pistol Institute, an agent entered shortly before noon, questioning the owner over the dulled popping sounds of gunfire.

The owner, Barbara O’Connell, had already checked the logs. Loughner had not been there, according to her paperwork, and no one recalled seeing him. The story was the same at another outdoor range.

Most people at the ranges said, if anything, the shooting would cause more people to carry guns as a means of self-defense, rather than a retrenchment in the form of stricter gun laws.

“The criminals are going to have guns, so why should we as law-abiding citizens be punished for what a criminal does?’’ said O’Connell.