The shooting in Tucson, Ariz. on Jan. 8 that left six dead and Representative Gabrielle Giffords in critical condition has many wondering what could have been done to prevent the tragedy. Arizona’s gun laws permit even an individual with a history of mental instability to legally purchase a weapon, and there was no security personnel surrounding Giffords at the event. The incident has also led many to question the effect of violent political discourse. None of these factors change the fact that the alleged attacker is a disturbed person, but they’re important to consider when contemplating public safety at political events.
No permit is required in Arizona to carry a concealed weapon, and weapons can be brought into many public places. Jared Loughner, the shooter, had a history of drug use and mentally unstable behavior, which contributed to his inability to join the military and his expulsion from community college. Under Arizona’s laws, Loughner had no problem legally purchasing an assault weapon. At Giffords’ event, there was no security, and her constituents were able to wait in a line in order to speak with her face-to-face.
Arizona’s gun laws are among the weakest in the country. While background checks for gun purchases can reveal prior offenses, they do nothing to assess the mental health of the buyer. The state of Arizona needs to seriously evaluate what kinds of weapons gun sellers are supplying and whose hands they are putting them into. The website for Loughner’s alleged weapon — GLOCK “Safe Action Pistols” — advertises that the gun meets “requirements of police, special units, security services and the military.” The fact that a civilian in Arizona is able to not only purchase such a weapon, but also carry it in public is alarming. The sale of assault weapons to civilians and the sale of any gun to someone who is mentally unstable, needs to be reconsidered.
The lack of protection for Giffords at the event is somewhat shocking. It’s troubling that an armed individual was able to approach the congresswoman so easily. While bodyguards and extensive police presence at political events is both expensive and unnecessary, some safety measures should be put into place. Something as simple as a security checkpoint where people are screened and patted down could have completely derailed Loughner’s plans.
In the aftermath of the Tuscan massacre, many media figures and politicians have been questioning the effect of violent political rhetoric. While directly linking this type of discussion to the actions of an individual is absurd, there is some validity to the argument that political discourse has become too extreme. In our culture of 24-hour news coverage, conflict is omnipresent and opponents are constantly demonized. The spirit of debate and competition is what makes democracy function, but there is certainly room for a little civility. Politicians and talking heads need to carefully consider their words and the message they’re sending.