After the Tucson Shootings, the Old Gun Debate Gets New Urgency

Glock pistol on display at industry trade show
Glock pistol on display at industry trade show

Among the many details emerging about alleged Tucson shooter Jared Loughner are his economic views, and it seems he agreed with the End-the-Fed crowd. According to the The New York Times, he told a college classmate that he was against the dollar and wanted to replace it.

In that, Loughner and Ron Paul (R-Texas) are on the same page, not that Paul has any connection to what Loughner did. But as commentators have been pointing out repeatedly since the tragic shootings, the tone of today's political rhetoric seems to appeal to some individuals who may be creeping close to the edge of sanity.

The End-the-Fed crowd is particularly sharp in its criticisms, as have been some Sarah Palin's comments and actions. Also well noted in the time since Loughner opened fire is Palin's "target list" of legislators who voted in favor of health care reform – which included Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). Do Palin and Paul have any legal responsibility for inciting violence? What about Austria's Glock, which made Loughner's weapon? Of course not -- but moral responsibility is a different matter.

Now, of course, it's time to cue the rhetoric that always arises -- as it did with 2007's Virginia Tech shooting -- about making certain that politicians don't dare infringe on the rights of the gun industry to earn profits. An example is Ron's son, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who is quoted in Monday's Wall Street Journal saying "the weapons don't kill people; it's the individual that kills these people." My guess is that without Loughner's Glock, the six people he shot to death would probably be doing fine right now. In a tragic irony, Giffords is herself a supporter of gun ownership.

Too Easy to Get Around the Law

But there is a difference between the Virginia Tech shooting -- where Seung-Hui Cho used a Glock 19 and a Walther P22 to kill 32 students in April 2007 -- and the Loughner case. As I posted on BloggingStocks in April 2007, Virginia has a law preventing people who have a history of mental disturbance -- like Cho -- from buying guns.

The gun dealer in Roanoke, Va., who sold Cho the gun didn't know of Cho's mental problems because he had lied about his mental problems on his gun application and because his mental health record wasn't in the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) that the dealer is required to check before selling a gun.

Loughner obtained his Glock perfectly legally on Nov. 30, 2010, at an Arizona sporting goods store -- after he had been booted from Pima Community College and told he could return if he could get "clearance from a mental-health professional that indicated his presence would not present a danger to himself or others," according to the Journal. Arizona allows people to carry concealed guns in their cars, in restaurants and other public places and does not require a check on their mental stability before selling them, nor does it require them to register their guns, according to the Washington Post.

Widespread Responsibility

Why not have laws at the federal, state and local levels that have stiff punishments for selling a gun to someone without first going to great lengths to make sure the person isn't mentally unbalanced. If Arizona had such a law, it would have been harder -- though obviously not impossible -- for Loughner to get his Glock.

Sponsored Links

Meanwhile, the elder Paul's rhetoric about ending the Fed had a powerful appeal to Loughner. Paul certainly doesn't advocate killing politicians to achieve his aims. According to the Times, a Pima, Ariz., classmate said Loughner railed on about "not liking the currency and he wished that the U.S. would change to a different currency because our currency is worthless." The Ron Paul supporters I debated last month couldn't agree more.

While the legal responsibility for this senseless act is Loughner's alone, the moral responsibility is widespread -- among the gun industry, the politicians who protect it, the patchwork of inconsistent laws that make it too easy for dangerous folks to get guns and the political rhetoric that makes them feel empowered to kill.

The key question Americans have to face is whether it makes sense to let the gun lobby hold more power than citizens who want to live without fear of a well-armed mad gunman going off in a crowd.