One lesson regarding gun control and its effects on the Tucson shootings is already clear: Had the 1994 assault weapons ban not been allowed to sunset in 2004, Jared Loughner’s murderous rampage would have been far less deadly.
The assault weapons ban included a prohibition on manufacturing or importing magazines holding more than 10 rounds. Before beginning his massacre, Loughner loaded one bullet into the chamber of a Glock 9mm semiautomatic handgun, along with a magazine holding 31 bullets. He rapidly fired all 32 rounds, shooting 20 people, six of them fatally, before bystanders tackled him when he attempted to reload. Had the ban on high-capacity magazines remained in effect, Loughner would have only been able to get off five or six shots before he tried to reload, and lives would have been saved.
Such concerns don’t matter to the paranoids and bastions of insecurity who falsely claim the Second Amendment creates an unlimited right to bear arms. The Second Amendment reads, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” The National Rifle Association and the firearms makers it fronts for interpret this right to bear arms as an absolute right that can’t be limited by any regulation or control. It would mean that anyone could buy a gun with no questions asked. It wouldn’t matter if the prospective purchaser is a previously convicted felon, an escapee from a prison or mental hospital, visibly intoxicated, a criminal suspect wanted by the police, or a child who doesn’t know one end of a gun from the other. The range of available firearms would be virtually unlimited.
But the “well-regulated militia” in the Second Amendment is the National Guard, with the right to bear arms applying to its members. We should also remember that back in 1791, when the Second Amendment took effect, the U.S. was a rural frontier society with a population of four million, and the state-of-the-art firearm was a single-shot musket with a range of 100 yards. Today the U.S. is an urbanized country with a population of 308 million, and high tech firearms that can be used as weapons of mass destruction. Even arch-conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has said that gun laws can ban possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, forbid the carrying of firearms in sensitive places, and impose conditions and qualifications on commercial firearms sales.
Gun nuts claim that strong gun controls undermine individual freedom, but stable democracies with these controls have found that they enable them to offer a freedom that many Americans don’t experience: Freedom from fear. A person walking the streets of Toronto, Tokyo or London is far safer than someone walking the streets of Detroit.
A high-capacity magazine has been found to be unnecessary for self-defense, because in most of those situations, simply brandishing a gun was sufficient to deter a potential assailant. Along these lines, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) are introducing bills in Congress to ban magazines holding more than 10 rounds. But don’t expect these bills to go anywhere with Republicans controlling the House. That would make too much sense.