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January 11, 2011

Concealed Carrying Bystander Nearly Killed Innocent Man During Tucson Shooting

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Jared Loughner fired 31 shots in Tucson, Arizona on Saturday. At least 20 of those 31 struck individuals. Under the federal assault weapons ban which expired in 2004, it would have been difficult for him to fire more than 10. High-capacity magazine clips were banned from manufacture and hard to get, and the moment of opportunity for the heroes who subdued Loughner came when he pulled out another magazine to reload.

Arizona lawmakers have readied a bill which would essentially require the state to offer firearms training to politicians and staffers. Their perspective is that more guns in the public square, not a reduced capacity, would have stopped the attack. But in actuality, more guns nearly caused a tragedy.

The new poster boy for this agenda is Joe Zamudio, a hero in the Tucson incident. Zamudio was in a nearby drug store when the shooting began, and he was armed. He ran to the scene and helped subdue the killer. Television interviewers are celebrating his courage, and pro-gun blogs are touting his equipment. “Bystander Says Carrying Gun Prompted Him to Help,” says the headline in the Wall Street Journal.

But before we embrace Zamudio’s brave intervention as proof of the value of being armed, let’s hear the whole story. “I came out of that store, I clicked the safety off, and I was ready,” he explained on Fox and Friends. “I had my hand on my gun. I had it in my jacket pocket here. And I came around the corner like this.” Zamudio demonstrated how his shooting hand was wrapped around the weapon, poised to draw and fire. As he rounded the corner, he saw a man holding a gun. “And that’s who I at first thought was the shooter,” Zamudio recalled. “I told him to ‘Drop it, drop it!’ ”

But the man with the gun wasn’t the shooter. He had wrested the gun away from the shooter. “Had you shot that guy, it would have been a big, fat mess,” the interviewer pointed out.

It turned out that Zamudio actually pushed the holder of the gun into a wall, and thus came much closer to doing violence on an innocent man who had just taken the gun from Jared Loughner than even this description suggests. The potential for yet another innocent death was pretty high here. And a Wild West show with alternating bouts of gunfire seems like an extremely dangerous environment for bystanders.

Frank Lautenberg said it very clearly on MSNBC: the difference between this country and practically every other industrialized nation, which has a tiny fraction of the gun violence as we have in the US, is that “we don’t have more madmen, we have more guns.” And increasing the amount of armed people out there won’t help this ratio, either.

I recognize that actual legislation reining in the type of mass killing machines we saw in the Tucson shooting is extremely remote. But maybe the Congress could listen to one of their colleagues, who was a victim of gun violence herself:

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo), who was shot in the 1978 attack that killed Rep. Leo Ryan, told reporters Monday that even if Rep. Gabrielle Giffords makes a full physical recovery from the bullet that tore through her head Saturday, it will be years before she makes a full psychological recovery [...]

Speier said there was nothing unique in this political moment that set the attack on Giffords apart from other such violent incidents.

“They are all horrific and many of them occur when the shooter is not at full capacity,” she said.

Another commonality, she said “is the easy access to a magazine for semiautomatic weapons.”

Speier, rather than focusing on the rhetorical milieu around the attack, which is nearly impossible to legislate (though norms can be raised), focuses on the public policy angle, the easy access to powerful guns capable of mass murder.


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