Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, who lost her husband to gun violence before coming to Congress, and who has since become one of the leading pro-gun control politicians in the country, plans to introduce legislation in response to the shooting in Tuscon, Arizona that claimed the life of 6 and left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in a medically induced coma.
“My staff is working on looking at the different legislation fixes that we might be able to do and we might be able to introduce as early as tomorrow,” McCarthy told POLITICO in a Sunday afternoon phone interview.
Gun control activists cried it was time to reform weapons laws in the United States, almost immediately after a gunman killed six and injured 14 more, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in Arizona on Saturday.
Many said that people with a history of mental instability, like the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, should not be able to buy a gun — and no one should be able to buy stockpiles of ammunition used by the 22-year-old assailant.
McCarthy said she plans to confer with House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to see “if we can work something through” in the coming week.
The indication is that the legislation will concern the 31-round magazine that Jared Loughner was able to use, a magazine whose manufacture would have been banned under the federal assault weapons ban.
There’s little indication that House Republicans would be willing to even discuss gun legislation, even after this tragic event. Most of the Republicans in the media over the past 48 hours fell back on the standard NRA-produced talking points in discussing the incident. And the President himself has shown little appetite for any gun-related legislation. The only thing that has passed since he came into office, under two years with large Congressional majorities, was a provision in the credit card reform bill allowing for concealed carry into national parks.
And yet, the fact that the high-capacity clips were banned under the old rules, which expired in 2004, could be a powerful motivator. Even a relative gun control skeptic like Mark Kleiman understands that there’s no legitimate use for a 31-round extended magazine. “That’s what you use to hunt people,” Rep. Mike Quigley told Politico.
You also have the permissive state laws in Arizona allowing concealed carry, which are coming under the microscope. And the state’s use of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and their relatively narrow allowance of criminal and mental health records, has been called inadequate by gun control groups.
Ben McGahee, a third-year instructor at Pima Community College, taught Loughner in an elementary algebra class last summer. McGahee said that while Loughner never threatened him directly, he was concerned by his behavior.
“I always felt, you know, somewhat paranoid,” McGahee said. “When I turned my back to write on the board, I would always turn back quickly–to see if he had a gun.”
McGahee said he had to make several complaints before administrators finally removed Loughner.
“They just said, ‘Well, he hasn’t taken any action to hurt anyone. He hasn’t provoked anybody. He hasn’t brought any weapons to class,’” McGahee recalled. “‘We’ll just wait until he takes that next step.’”
Looked at from one perspective, the main problem here was that Loughner never got the mental health treatment he clearly needed. The United States fares badly among industrialized nations on this issue, and while the health care law includes mental health parity and expanded resources for the mentally ill, the track record in the states is quite uneven. Arizona does a particularly poor job. So that must be addressed. It’s not enough to wave away another mass shooting by saying “He was a nutjob.” Nutjobs need the help, for their own safety and that of society.
But from another perspective, the idea that someone who could not get into the military and could not get back into college without passing a mental health check could buy a gun in about a minute shows some serious deficiencies in the whole “well-regulated militia” part of the Second Amendment. There’s room for a lot of improvement in this area.
Finally, here’s a perfectly normal story pulled at random about a shooting at a Baltimore nightclub the same day as the Giffords shooting. Patrons at the club got into a huge fight, police came out, shooting ensued, and two died, including a police officer. This happens every single day in America, at rates that dwarf the rest of the developed world. We have to ask ourselves if we can protect all citizen’s rights, including the right to life, a bit better.