“I would rather have a gun and not need it than need a gun and not have it” is a nicely glib phrase that trips off the tongues of gun-toters and their interpretation of the 2nd amendment*. But on closer inspection you would have to understand the totally unbalanced equation between those people that have guns and those occasions when they need – or have needed – them. (Leaving out the factor of those who don’t have them and don’t need them.)And it begs the question that if semi-automatic weapons with extended ammunition clips were ever necessary in the hands of its citizens on the streets of the USA, would owning them be the least of this nation’s worries?
In the Spring of 1999, a young high school student, Daniel Mauser, pointed out to his father that there was a loophole in the Brady Law, the federal law that mandated background checks for most people buying guns. Two weeks later, on April 20, Daniel was murdered by a gun purchased through that very loophole, at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and injured at least 17 when he went on a shooting spree on the Virginia Tech campus on April 16, 2007. He purchased two semi-automatic handguns despite having a history of psychiatric problems that made it illegal to sell him guns. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act that Daniel Mauser studied is a federal law, though, and the Commonwealth of Virginia did not report Cho’s psychiatric history to the federal database that governs gun sales. He bought a Walther .22 caliber semi-automatic and a Glock 19.
The Glock 19 semiautomatic pistol that Jared Loughner is accused of using in his rampage in Tucson, Arizona, is, according to Glock’s website, “ideal for versatile use through reduced dimensions” and is “suitable for concealed carry.” The site continues, “Compact and subcompact Glock pistol model magazines can be loaded with a convincing number of rounds,” from the standard 15 up to 33. The shooter was able to kill and wound to the extent that he did, with six dead and 13 injured, because he had a semiautomatic concealed weapon loaded with the “extended magazine.” He was attempting to reload the weapon with another extended magazine when a brave, unarmed woman, 61-year-old Patricia Maisch, knocked his next clip from his hand.
Speaking at a press conference shortly after the shooting, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said: “The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.” Arizona is one of three states in the country that allow people to carry concealed weapons without a permit. When asked about the law, the sheriff was emphatic: “We are the Tombstone of the United States of America… I have never been a proponent of letting everybody in this state carry weapons under any circumstances that they want. And that’s almost where we are.” He also decried a proposed Arizona bill that would allow students and professors to carry guns on campus. Packing a gun on campus is viewed by many as the “2nd amendment remedy” for campus massacres; if enough people are armed, the logic goes, then deranged shooters or terrorists or whomever will be shot sooner and fewer will be killed.
This is false logic, as the details of the Tucson shooting show clearly. Loughner emptied his extended-capacity magazine in seconds, just after 10:10 am on Jan. 8th, 2011. As the shots were being fired, Joe Zamudio was leaving the nearby Walgreen’s store. He heard the gunshots and ran out of the store. Zamudio told Ed Schultz on MSNBC, “I saw another individual holding the firearm, and I kind of assumed he was the shooter, so I grabbed his wrists, and told him to drop it, and forced him to drop the gun on the ground. When he did that, everybody says, ‘no, no, it’s this guy, it’s this guy,’ and I proceeded to hold that man down… When I came through the door, I had my hand on the butt of my pistol and I clicked the safety off. I was ready to kill him… I would have killed him. I would have shot the man holding the gun.”
Zamudio would have killed the man holding the gun. By that time, Loughner was not the man holding the gun. It was an onlooker who picked up the gun. Zamudio later told the Arizona Daily Star, “I could have very easily done the wrong thing and hurt a lot more people.”
Another of the people who helped tackle and restrain Loughner was 74-year-old retired Army Colonel Bill Badger. Despite being shot, and at that moment unaware of the extent of his injuries, he leapt on the shooter. Badger later told Wolf Blitzer on CNN, “something is drastically wrong with what’s going on in our United States right now. And when an individual is turned down to get into the military and then can be – is able to go out and buy a .9-millimeter Glock pistol, and he had one of the – or his clips were the extended clips that were limited to law enforcement only, and, you know, that – or somebody has to put a stop to that.”
Someone is trying to put a stop to it. While Jared Loughner confirmed Glock’s claim that 33 is a “convincing” number of rounds, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., doesn’t need convincing. Her husband, Dennis McCarthy, was gunned down on the Long Island Rail Road on Dec. 7, 1993, when Colin Ferguson pulled a semiautomatic pistol out of his bag and methodically made his way along the afternoon commuter train, randomly shooting passengers. He too killed six people and wounded 19, including McCarthy’s son, Kevin. Ferguson was tackled, as was Loughner, while reloading his weapon. In both cases, the act of reloading the gun created a pause in the shooting that allowed unarmed citizens to take action.
Carolyn McCarthy mourned the loss of her husband and nursed her critically injured son back to health. He had been shot in the head. Carolyn McCarthy then decided to go further, to try to heal the nation. She lobbied her Long Island member of Congress, Republican Daniel Frisa, to support the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban. He refused. McCarthy had been a nurse for 30 years, and a lifelong Republican. Turning her anger into action, she switched to the Democratic Party, ran for Congress against Frisa and defeated him in 1996. She has been in Congress ever since, and is one of the staunchest supporters of common sense gun laws.
The 1994 law prohibited a number of weapons outright, as well as extended-capacity magazines like Loughner used. The law expired in 2004 under President George W. Bush. In response to the Tucson shooting, McCarthy is introducing the Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Devices Act. In a letter to other members of Congress seeking co-sponsors, she says the bill “will prohibit the transfer, importation, or possession of high-capacity magazines manufactured after the bill is enacted,” and, thus, “the increased difficulty in obtaining these devices will reduce their use and ultimately save lives.”
The ban on these bullet clips is a start. But ultimately, the guns themselves—semiautomatic weapons—are the personal weapons of mass destruction that are designed not to hunt animals, but to kill people. These guns need to be controlled. By controlling them, we will reduce violence not only in the United States, but across the border in Mexico as well.
In Ciudad Juarez, just 300 miles from Tucson, directly across the border from El Paso, Texas, Mexican officials say more than 3,100 people were killed in drug violence last year, the bloodiest year to date. In May 2010, President Felipe Calderon spoke before a joint session of the U.S. Congress and called for a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban. According to law enforcement officials, 90 percent of the guns picked up in Mexico from criminal activity are purchased in the United States.
Susana Chavez was a poet and activist in Ciudad Juarez. She popularized the phrase “Not one more dead.” She was buried recently in Mexico, just as the bodies of Tucson’s youngest victim, 9-year-old Christina Greene, and federal Judge John Roll were being prepared for burial in Arizona. A month earlier, anti-violence campaigner Marisela Escobedo Ortiz was shot in the head while maintaining a vigil to demand that the government take action in pursuit of the killers of her 17-year-old daughter, Rubi Frayre Escobedo.
Daniel Mauser’s ability, at 15 years of age, to see that a federal law had a gaping loophole, suggests an intellect that would have propelled him on to great things. He was denied that life by a shot to the face by Eric Harris, with the semi-automatic 9mm Hi-Point Rifle, bought for him (since he was just 17) by 18-year-old friend Robyn K. Anderson. She bought them at the Tanner Gun Show, a popular monthly gun extravaganza in Denver, where people with guns to sell could, in 1999, rent table space and sell guns without the hassle of background checks or keeping records. Inspired by his son Daniel’s fateful interest in the Brady Law, Tom Mauser became a gun-control activist after his son’s death. He managed to push through a law in Colorado that requires background checks at gun shows. The state legislature, with funding from the National Rifle Association, defeated the bill, so Mauser took it to the populace as a ballot initiative, and it passed with a 70% majority. Robyn Anderson later said at a Congressional hearing that if there had been background checks in place when she bought the guns, she would have been deterred.
Colin Goddard survived the Virginia Tech massacre. He is the subject of the documentary, “Living for 32”. Goddard said, “I will always believe I was in the right place at the right time– in class at 9:00 am. And despite the horror of that 10 minute experience, I survived as one of the luckier ones. For the 32 Hokies who were lost that day, and for the 32 Americans who are lost everyday on average in our country, I’ve decided to devote this time in my life to making a difference, so their memories might be honored and the damage to our society lessened. Many people say we can’t or shouldn’t improve the gun laws in this country. I’m part of the next generation. I reject that premise, and I say we can and should do better.”
Goddard supports tighter background checks, and opposes laws that would allow students to carry weapons on campus.
The U.S. group Mayors Against Illegal Guns has just released the results of a bipartisan survey which found that 86 percent of Americans and 81 percent of gun owners support background checks on all gun sales. The group maintains a website, Close the Loophole.org. Gun shows, the ready access to semi-automatic weapons, and the additional availability of extended-capacity magazines are a recipe for the massacres that occur all too often in the U.S., and seemingly daily in Mexico. Right now, Colorado is just one of a handful of states that require the background check at gun shows. 33 states do not regulate these sales at all.
In the wake of the Tucson shooting, amidst calls for bipartisanship and civility, now is the time for Democrats and Republicans to join together to pass a permanent ban on assault weapons, ban extended-capacity bullet clips, close the gun show loophole, and make our country a safer place.