Last weekend, Americans were fixated on their televisions, watching the aftermath of the tragedy in Arizona that took the lives of six and injured 14 others including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Congresswoman Giffords, “Gabby” as she is known by colleagues on Capitol Hill, is a friend, a bright young legislator who works tirelessly for her district. We continue to keep her, her staff, their families, and all the victims of Saturday’s shooting in our thoughts and prayers.
There are many implications for the shooting in Tucson, the full breadth of which we will contemplate for some time. But in the initial days following the tragedy, one in particular has risen to the forefront – the prevalence of high powered guns in our society, accessible in some cases by individuals not competent to own them.
Information about the shooter, Jared Loughner, is incomplete. We likely will never fully understand the motives of this sick, deranged individual. What we do know is he used a Glock 9mm handgun with a 33 round clip, purchased legally, to assassinate a congresswoman and kill six others. The 33 round magazine is the largest on the market for a 9mm Glock under current law.
Various news reports indicate Loughner has a troubled background and severe mental health problems. In spite of this, he was able to purchase a gun under Arizona state law. This deficiency in the federal background check system should lead to a broader discussion of the National Instant Criminal-Background System database and ways to improve its identification of the mentally ill. It clearly failed in this instance, leading to the death and destruction of innocent life.
We also cannot dismiss the thought that some of the lives lost could have been spared if the perpetrator only had access to purchase a smaller magazine. The 1994 Assault Weapons Ban (AWB), in addition to outlawing various military-style assault weapons, banned the sale of high-capacity magazines such as the one used in Tucson, which can deliver 30 rounds in under 10 seconds. Under the AWB, a magazine holding ten rounds would have been the maximum Mr. Loughner could have purchased.
Legislators are already focusing on how we can improve our gun safety laws. Separate efforts to reintroduce the AWB and ban large magazines are underway. It’s a sad commentary on Congress that neither of these bills is assured passage given the NRA lobby’s sway. But that’s not a reason to back down.
The new House Republican majority will have to make a decision whether or not they will take legislative action on these commonsense gun safety remedies. Over the next weeks I will be pressing for the House to act to help better protect the public from the next madman or psychopath bent on mayhem.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.