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Arizona Has Turned into a Gun Lover's Paradise -- and That's Why It Ranks Among the Highest in Gun Deaths

Arizona is a mecca for gun-lovers, but having lots of heavily armed citizens running around has made it a more dangerous place to live.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik calls Arizona “an ultra-right, ultra-conservative state” that has been “victimized by the gun lobby.” He said legislators in Phoenix “don’t seem capable of doing anything reasonable when it comes to weapons in this state,” and that the political climate in the Grand Canyon state is pushing the law in the direction of “letting everybody in this state carry weapons under any circumstances that they want.”

As a result, Arizona provides ample evidence that the presence of a large number of untrained but heavily armed citizens running around doesn't make anyone safer. The state ranks dead last in gun controls, according to the Legal Community Against Violence (LCAV), a group that advocates for tighter gun laws. Arizona doesn't require background checks for private gun sales; it doesn't prohibit assault weapons, 50 caliber rifles, high capacity magazines; it doesn't impose a waiting period or limit the number of guns that can be acquired in a single purchase, and it doesn't regulate “junk guns” – cheap and often unsafe “Saturday Night Specials.” Last year, the state passed a law allowing individuals to carry concealed firearms in public without a license or permit.

Has this made the citizens of Arizona, a gun-lover's paradise, safe? Well, the state ranked 7th in the country in per capita gun deaths, according to statistics compiled by The Daily Beast, and eighth in terms of the overall rate of violent crime, according to Census data. And its lax gun laws spill over its borders; according to LCAV, “Arizona ranked 11th among the states in terms of number of crime guns supplied to other states per capita. Perhaps more shockingly, in 2009, Arizona provided more crime guns per capita to Mexico than any other state.”

But the narrative that an armed citizenry makes for a safe community persists. Since the shootings, gun enthusiasts have touted the “courage” of one supposedly heroic figure in that Tucson parking lot, a young man named Joseph Zamudio. As the Wall Street Journal put it, his experience “speaks to why many gun-rights supporters think carrying a legal weapon can save lives.”

When he realized there was an incident occurring at the Tucson Safeway supermarket Saturday where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was holding a constituent event, Mr. Zamudio thought he could help, since he was legally carrying a 9mm semiautomatic.

"If I'd gone down there sooner, maybe I could have shot him myself," Zamudio told reporters. But Slate's William Saletan offered the “rest of the story.” When Zamudio rounded the corner, with his finger on the trigger of the gun in his pocket and the safety off, he saw a man holding a gun and was prepared to shoot him. "I told him to 'Drop it, drop it!'" he recalled. Only it turned out that the man was not the shooter, later identified as Jared Lee Loughner, but a bystander who had wrested the gun away from Loughner. Zamudio, who has no formal weapons training, conceded that he was “really lucky” to have made the right call. “I made a lot of really big decisions really fast,” he said.

One of the reasons he hesitated was he feared that if he drew his weapon police would believe he had been the perpetrator of the deadly shooting spree.

As Saletan wrote:

That's what happens when you run with a firearm to a scene of bloody havoc. In the chaos and pressure of the moment, you can shoot the wrong person. Or, by drawing your weapon, you can become the wrong person—a hero mistaken for a second gunman by another would-be hero with a gun. Bang, you're dead. Or worse, bang bang bang bang bang: a firefight among several armed, confused, and innocent people in a crowd. It happens even among trained soldiers. Among civilians, the risk is that much greater.

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