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The shooting of Rep. Giffords is, at least in part, a gun story, so allow me to weigh in. The New York Times, a paper I really like, had two dumb things to say about it. This, from today’s editorial:

(Arizona’s) gun laws are among the most lenient, allowing even a disturbed man like Mr. Loughner to buy a pistol and carry it concealed without a special permit. That was before the Tucson rampage. Now, having seen first hand the horror of political violence, Arizona should lead the nation in quieting the voices of intolerance, demanding an end to the temptations of bloodshed, and imposing sensible controls on its instruments.

It’s time to take a deep breath and ask what “sensible controls” one could devise that could have prevented this . . .

Loughner bought the pistol legally, having gone through the federal background check. (Arizona law was irrelevant when he bought it.) And if he hadn’t passed the background check in a gun store, he could have bought a gun from a private citizen out of the newspaper’s classifieds.

Yes, his carrying concealed to the Safeway was legal under Arizona’s new law, but if it hadn’t been, would he have been dissuaded? He headed off to commit murder; he was already far over the line where a concealed-carry law would have made any difference to him.

We could talk about banning private-party sales of guns, I suppose — not that it would have made a difference in this case. But in a country with 350 million privately owned guns, people who want guns are going to get them.

A helpful way to think of gun laws is as analogous to marijuana laws. They make us feel like we’re “doing something,” but they are equally ineffective at doing what they purport to do. In the case of gun laws, though, what we’re also doing is so alienating the 40 percent of Americans who own guns that progress on things like health care, women’s rights, immigration reform, workers’ rights, and climate change becomes nearly impossible. (I can’t tell you how many working-stiff gun guys I’ve met while researching my book — people whose wages haven’t risen since 1978 and should be with us — who won’t even listen to Democrats because they’re convinced Democrats want to take away their guns. Dumb? Maybe. But that’s democracy for you.)

Gail Collins, I columnist I generally respect, had this to say:

Loughner came to Giffords’s sweet gathering with a semiautomatic weapon that he was able to buy legally because the law restricting their sale expired in 2004 and Congress did not have the guts to face up to the National Rifle Association and extend it. If Loughner had gone to the Safeway carrying a regular pistol, the kind most Americans think of when they think of the right to bear arms, Giffords would probably still have been shot and we would still be having that conversation about whether it was a sane idea to put her Congressional district in the cross hairs of a rifle on the Internet.

The gun Loughner used was a regular pistol. There was no law restricting its sale in 2004. It is a semi-automatic pistol, but the law to which Collins refers was a law against assault rifles. Okay, okay, you say. I’m picking nits. But here’s the point: Presuming to forbid or control things you don’t understand is a pretty good definition of elitism, and if Democrats suffer from anything, it’s a public perception that they’re elitists trying to force their own solutions on the masses who don’t know any better.

To the extent Collins pushes Democrats to push harder for gun-control laws that will make them feel better, but not really save any lives, she makes it harder for the Democrats’ agenda — to which I am deeply committed — to gain traction. She also will shift attention from the real villain here, which is the toxic rhetoric (“Second Amendment solutions,” etc.) we’ve been hearing from the Right.

Much has been made during the past 48 hours about Arizona’s lax gun laws, particularly the one that lets any adult who can legally own a gun carry it concealed. It turns out, there was an armed citizen at the shooting. Geraldo Rivera interviewed a man named Joe Zamudio who was at the scene with a concealed handgun. He told Rivera on camera that he ran toward the sound of the shots but didn’t shoot because others already had the Loughner tackled and, “I wasn’t going to cause any more collateral damage or scare anybody any further than they needed to be scared.”

In other words, he ran toward the danger to help, but made a very fast, very sober, and very correct decision about what to do with his gun. He’s only 24, but unlike Loughner, not crazy. And neither are most of the people who legally carry guns. As many as six million Americans have gotten concealed-carry permits in the 24 years that they’ve been easy to get, and fewer than 300 have done bad things with their guns.

I’m not one for using statistics, because everybody can read into them what he wants to see. This one, though, seems pretty hard to get around: In the past twenty years, gun ownership has gone way up and gun laws have become far looser, yet violent crime as fallen by more than a third. (The gun people are convinced there’s a causal relationship; I think the crime drop has more to do with changing demographics and smarter policing. But certainly, more guns and looser gun laws didn’t cause crime to rise.)

The more statistics and studies I read, the more I think that if we did away with almost everything we think of as “gun control” — registration, assault-rifle bans, one-gun-a-month laws, etc. — the price of fish wouldn’t change by a farthing. People would still do bad things with guns, but to no greater extent. (And maybe less. There’s evidence for that, too.) Most of all, we’d have taken from the Right a gigantic cudgel with which they whip the masses into a frenzy and beat us senseless. The Times — and the Post, with its error-ridden swing at the Pulitzer a few weeks ago, “The Hidden Life of Guns” — should know better.

[Dan Baum is a respected author and TTAG commentator. Please visit his website so that we can convince him to cross-post here regularly.]

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  1. Baum conveniently ignores several points because, well, they’re inconvenient and renders his narrative foolish.

    We know the suspect had been rejected by the Army, which pretty much accepts anybody these days. We also know Loughner had been kicked out of community college and told not to return until he had passed a psychcological evaluation. Further, we’re finding out that many of Loughner’s friends and neighbors were alarmed by his behavior or thought it odd.

    Yet, Baum says he passed the background check, so all was copacetic. What Baum ignores, of course, is that the background check is essentially meaningless unless you’re Charles Manson; even then, you still might be able to get a gun. And gunloon groups wish to further water down background checks.

    In an attempt to find a silver lining to this dog’s breakfast, Baum brings up the case for Zamudio’s sainthood. Simply by virtue of having a gun and arriving on the scene after the assailant had been subdued–Zamudio, Baum argues, is a hero for not going into Charles Whitman-mode. By such logic, we’re all heroes for not having reacted badly.

  2. Dan, you had me — total and complete agreement — until “the real villain here, which is the toxic rhetoric.” And then I agreed with everything you wrote after that.

    Hot political rhetoric has been apart of American discourse since the country was founded. There is nothing new nor more intense flowing out of the mouths and pens of modern politicians and pundits. If anything, political correctness has cooled political discourse in recent decades. Those who believe otherwise are either trying to cast their political opponent as a bully or are ignorant of history.

    The real culprit here is mental illness.

  3. The anti-rhetoric campaign currently being conducted by the Democrats is merely their attempt to command the moral high ground while they continue in power. If you look at the Democrats’ demonizing of George Bush, Sarah Palin and other Republicans, it’s obvious what the campaign is all about — saving Barack Obama’s job. Speaking ill of a Democrat is deemed hate-mongering. Speaking ill of a Republican, or any opponent of the Democrats, is deemed a considered and intellectual response. While we are busy defending the Second Amendment, the Democrats are taking away the First.

    • So, Ralph, it’s not wrong if I were to say we ought to use “Second Amendment remedies” to remove GOPers from office? Or suppose I show up at a protest against your GOP heroes with a sign that reads “Next time I won’t come unarmed” or “The Tree of Liberty needs watering.”

      • You have me confused with Thomas Jefferson: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
        Or Leonidas: “ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ” (“Come and get them!”)
        Or John Harrington: “Treason doth never prosper, what’s the reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it Treason.”
        Or obl posting on QuickTopic on a thread entitled,”I Hate George Bush”: “fuckhim. hes dead man walking!! kidnap his daughters and sell them toeuropean sex trafficers. ilkill himmy self. baby killer!!”

  4. Dan, you had me — total and complete agreement — until “the real villain here, which is the toxic rhetoric.”

    Let’s try a small thought experiment here, Monty.

    Let’s say you’re running for the office of dogcatcher in your community. Your opponent is your neighbor whom you respect as a capble and responsible person. You and your opponent decide to have a debate at the local community center in front of 1000 of your neighbors and would-be constituents.

    You know for a fact that at least one person in the audience is armed with a gun and suffers from paranoid delusions.

    Do you pursue your strategy of attacking your opponent using “hot political rhetoric” and accuse your opponent of, say, being a fascist intent on confiscating everyone’s property and controlling our minds via fluoridation?

    • Your hypothetical implies that the armed psychotic responds rationally to the debate, becoming agitated if the rhetoric is inflammatory and is lulled to sleep if the dog catcher candidates begin to recite poetry to each other. Paranoid schizophrenics are quite capable of twisting whatever words they hear –regardless of how politely they are communicated – and twist them into whatever fevered fantasy they harbor.

  5. The military does not accept just anyone, they have rejected many people because they don’t measure up. As for” sensible controls”, the rest of the country should follow Arizona’s lead and pass the same sensible gun control law’s. Alaska and Vermont are two more great states with very sensible controls. Just go to Cal., D.C., or NY/NJ and you’ll see how unsensible their useless gun control laws are.

    • Sensible? I just went through the statistics, and well, you do not know what you are talking about.
      Violent crime rates 2008/2009 according to US Census:
      Alaska – seventh worst (661 per 100k) but 47th in population
      Arizona – ranks 18th (483 per 100k) 16th in population
      Vermont – 49th in violent crime, 49th in population
      California – 13 in violent crime (523) but first in population
      New York – 23rd in Violent (414) third in population
      New Jersey – 29th in violent crime (329) 11th in population
      Wisconsin (no carry) – 35 in violent crime (291), 20 in population
      Hawaii (virtually no carry) – 39th in violent crime (273) 40th in population

      What does this have to say? Well, population density plays a greater role than being allowed to carry a concealed weapon, and the states you think may be crime havens are actually better than the states you refer to.

      DC doesn’t count because it is a city state, and not the most dangerous city in the country by far. Ranked 10th, DC is far below both St. Louis and Kansas City, two cities in Missouri, which has a lenient shall-carry law.

      I take a different approach on this – that concealed weapons laws do not reduce crime – nine of the top 10 worst violent crime states are shall-carry states, and the 10th, Delaware (sixth, 45 in population) is a may carry.

  6. JM: In recent years, the Army has significantly reduced its standards regarding enlistment. They’re relaxed age, fitness, and education requirements and they’ve been more lenient WRT criminal records.

    BTW, AK and AZ homicide rates really don’t support your argument.

  7. Maybe he was rejected for the military because he was gay; he tried to enlist before “DADT” was repealed. Maybe he admitted to using drugs, licit or illicit. Maybe he said the was a communist. Who knows? The Army won’t tell. Whatever you suppose is likely to be wrong.

  8. While Collins is wrong in her statement about the gun itself she’s right in that there’s at least one aspect of this tragedy that would have been impacted by the old Clinton-era laws: the extended magazine the shooter was using.

    Personally I thought that was a pretty ineffectual and pointless limitation – if for no other reason than you could still get ones that were already on the market – but it would have been more difficult for Loughner to get that 30-round magazine. I don’t know that I think that’s a valid reason to deny them to the majority law-abiding population but it was indeed a factor in the expired law.

    • Do you really expect that the 2 seconds needed to change magazines would have made a difference? The VA Tech shooter changed magazines to no effect.

      You can’t stop wackos with laws.

      • And, no, nothing was unavailable during the ban, it just cost more. The same magazines, the same firearms remained available.

  9. AP now reports that Loughner was turned down for Army service because he failed a drug test. Had this information been known, Loughner would have been unable to purchase a gun.

  10. Ban this, ban that, ban everything! BANS don’t work now or in the past and they will never work in the future. It is pure fantasy if you believe that a ban can stop ANYTHING. As we have seen thru out history, people ignore bans on a regular basis, and no one in the world can enforce a complete ban on anything. So invent all the laws and restrictions and controls your silly little mind can conjure up and none of them will work!

  11. The amount of people who get guns but not permits is frankly absurd. There’s no accountability with that one. The reason why there’s not a lot of CCW individuals is that:

    1 – Some people really don’t understand the responsibility

    2 – Some applicants are clueless (some just want to have it in their car, or just carry “occasionally”)

    3 – The culture war by the Bradyistas trying to broad-brush all gun owners and people falling for that stupid meme.

    4 – Time commitment. People somehow think it’s a big deal to practice, when it really isn’t – if you have more access to gun ranges (or get the police to open up theirs to licensed individuals), make purchases of supplies and ammunition and classes tax deductible once you have a license…etc

    THIS is the reason why the chances of a CCW holder being there is so low. The highest is near 8%, in South Dakota! For Arizona (1%), for a population of 6 million by the last census, how do you expect a good chance of ONE of the 60,000 people to be in the right place at the right time, unless you bumped that number to, say, 1 million?

    If it really wasn’t hard to see that this guy was disruptive in class, then I propose this:

    Anyone who wants to get a pistol – I assume you’re going to carry it everywhere. Design a firearms course adapted for civilians that runs for a weekend – incorporating combatives and point shooting as well as legalities, as most defensive encounters happen within 0-5 feet. If they cannot follow orders or are being aggressive and disruptive, drop them from the class and order a psych evaluation (this should be adapted from the police psych). Once you get that license, go out and buy a gun. Your permit lasts for 2 years. Every time you take a requalification course before your two years you extend your license for another year. The same goes with select-fire rifles and shotguns (mixed into long gun courses).

    And lastly, I’m not sure why drug tests and mental illness are supposed to be covered under privacy – if there are impaired individuals out there then I want to know about it. If he failed the drug test or was rejected from the Army that is going to tell you something – and the armed forces needs to tighten up its standards already.

  12. Dan,

    I’ll bet that now you know how Bill O’Reilly feels, when he gets hate mail from both the left AND the right, when making a reasoned argument somewhere between the two extremes. I don’t agree with everything you write here, or elsewhere, but I enjoy what you write, regardless. And you make some excellent points here. Glad you’re contributing here on TTAG.

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