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

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.

Nonetheless, sales of Glock handguns – the weapon Jared Lee Loughner used when he shot Rep. Giffords and 19 others -- have skyrocketed in Arizona in the wake of the shootings. And the state's legislature is considering two bills that would further expand Arizonans' “right” to carry concealed weapons wherever they please.

In a sane society, we would be imposing reasonable restrictions on firearms. According to news reports, the carnage at Giffords' event only ended when the shooter stopped to reload. But because he was using an extended capacity magazine, that only occurred after he had gotten off over 30 rounds. There had been a halt in the manufacture and sales of high capacity magazines under the Clinton-era Assault Weapons Ban. But, as Media Matters' Ari Rabin-Havt noted, “The NRA put its muscle behind making sure the assault weapons ban expired, even though its renewal was supported by President Bush.”

While the assault weapons ban restricted the capacity of magazines to 10 rounds, Loughner was able to fire 31 rounds from his Glock 19, killing six people and injuring 13 others. The NRA owns nine bullets that struck innocent people (and 21 bullets altogether) that would have been outlawed if the ban was still in place.

The Second Amendment does not guarantee the right to keep and bear semi-automatic weapons with high capacity magazines, and in a sane country, they'd be banned. But gun control in the U.S. today is a non-starter, due in part to the outsized influence of the gun lobby, and in part because public opinion has shifted against the gun control agenda. According to OpenSecrets, gun control advocates spent less than $200,000 lobbying Congress during the first nine months of 2010, a figure that was dwarfed by the $4 million spent by their ideological opponents.

So we can expect some heated debate following the horrific events in Tucson, just as we do after every nightmarish gun incident, and then we will return to our uniquely dangerous status quo.

Note: a correction was made after publication.


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