Longform

Arizona's Lax Gun Laws Helped Make Tucson's Jared Lee Loughner Possible

COMMENTARY

They were wanding down visitors at the Arizona state House for the first day of the Legislature, where Governor Jan Brewer dispensed with her State of the State address and focused instead on the massacre in Tucson.

"Tragedy and terror sometimes come from the shadows," the governor read from her teleprompter, "and steal our joy and take away our peace."

Of course, Brewer did not mention that such "tragedy and terror" are made easier when someone as obviously mentally disturbed as Jared Lee Loughner has a semiautomatic handgun with a 31-round clip that he's ready to unload on a crowd.

Loughner now faces five federal counts, including murder and attempted assassination, for an attack that felled federal Judge John Roll, 9-year-old Christina Green, and four others.

He also allegedly put a bullet through the brain of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (who was still struggling to survive as this edition of New Times was published) and wounded 12 more, according to the most recent information from the Pima County Sheriff's Department.

But if Loughner had felt like making the trek to the Legislature with his Glock and his high-capacity magazine legally concealed under his clothing, he could have strolled into the state House or Senate, walked into a committee hearing, or into the one of the galleries and picked off state legislators as if they were mechanical ducks in some carny's shoot-'em-up game.

See, the wanding at the state House that day was a departure from routine and, apparently, a one-off occurrence. There are no metal detectors or screening procedures, like at county, state, and municipal courts. You don't have to empty your pockets or take off your belt.

Even on the Legislature's opening day, wanding was perfunctory, at best. Carrying a digital recorder, a camera, and a keychain inside clothing didn't trip the electronic wand in two scans. No beeps.

Over at the Senate, there were no wands — and, as usual, no one to stop you from wandering all through the Senate building without any type of screening.

Sure, the Capitol grounds were crawling with state troopers in their Smokey hats. And the Capitol Police were present in force.

But on any other day the Legislature is in session, such uniformed cops are not around. Or, at least, they are not very noticeable.

Of note is that even senators and representatives are prohibited from carrying firearms while in the legislative buildings. Though how anyone would know that someone had a concealed weapon on them, sans metal detectors at the doors, is a mystery.

Yet Arizona's number-one gun enthusiast, state Senate President Russell Pearce, has proposed in the past that citizens be allowed to legally carry their weapons into state Capitol buildings.

You know Pearce. He's the guy who pushed for an end to requiring a permit to carry a concealed weapon, and he and his fellow gun fetishists in the Legislature passed a law that allows you to tote your weapon into drinking establishments, except in those where bar owners are smart enough to post signs stating that guns are not allowed.

Pearce even wants to force local police departments to resell weapons they've confiscated from criminals, weapons he has described to the Arizona Republic as "perfectly good weapons."

This, despite the fact that such resells sometimes end up involved in other crimes, or trafficked to Mexico.

Senator Pearce prides himself on being a tough guy, who mows his own lawn with a .40-caliber strapped to his hip, unconcerned about death threats.

Yet, on the Legislature's opening day, after the state Senate ended its brief session, when most senators walked across the courtyard from the Senate to the House to hear the governor speak, Pearce took a subterranean route from the Senate to the House via an underground tunnel, several sources said.

Demonstrators from the groups Citizens for a Better Arizona and East Valley Patriots for American Values were there with signs, ready to protest Pearce. But Pearce didn't show his face.

Did Pearce fear a Loughner-like attack? If so, there's no dearth of irony in that.


In the wake of the killing spree, politicians on both the left and the right lined up to out Loughner as a member of the other side. Liberal media outlets, such as the New York Times, joined the calls to dampen the nation's fiery political give-and-take.

Some pointed to Sarah Palin's map of crosshairs targeting Democrats in Congress. Others went through Loughner's deranged YouTube videos like fortune-tellers examining coffee grounds for clues.

The right, playing a good defense, went on the attack. None other than former deputy Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Alexander, currently accused of numerous ethical violations by the State Bar of Arizona, Tweeted that the 22-year-old high school dropout was an "anarcho-leftist" — whatever that is.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik quickly became a Democratic hero and a Republican target by decrying the "vitriol" in public discourse that affects "unbalanced people," such as Loughner.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons