Assault-Weapons Ban Would Not Have Prevented the Tucson Shooting

by Kevin D. Williamson

As usual, the ghouls at the Brady Center follow hot on the trail of a murder; in this case they are arguing that, had the federal assault-weapons ban not been allowed to expire, the Tucson shooter would have had a hard time buying the magazine he used in the gun with which he shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. It is certainly not true that, as Salon put it, “Weapon in rampage was banned under Clinton-era law.” The weapon in question, a 9mm Glock 19 pistol, was not banned; neither were the 31-round magazines the shooter used. What was banned was the manufacture or importation of new magazines with a capacity of more than ten rounds.

That is not hair-splitting, inasmuch as high-capacity magazines for Glocks were and are commonplace — almost as commonplace as Glocks themselves — and remained so even while their manufacture and importation were banned. Most Glock 9mm magazines are usable in any Glock 9mm pistol, regardless of model. Glock makes at least four different 9mm pistols at the moment — 9mm being one of the most common calibers — and a high-capacity magazine sold for almost any of those could have been used in the Glock 19. Third-party manufacturers make them as well, and have made them for years and years, meaning that AWB or no AWB, finding one is not very difficult. The only difference the AWB is likely to have made is that the shooter would have had a used magazine instead of a new one (assuming he did in fact have a new one), and he probably would have paid five bucks more for it.

Nor is it true that, as the Brady Center claims, “Glock pistols are particularly easy to fire, letting off rounds as quickly as the operator can pull the trigger.” All semiautomatic weapons let off rounds as quickly as the operator can pull the trigger; that is the definition of a semiautomatic weapon. The Glock 19 does not have a particularly light trigger pull — its standard trigger-pull weight is 5.5 pounds – and a great many high-quality modern handguns have adjustable triggers, anyway, for a variety of reasons. Many women and people with less hand strength, for example, prefer a lighter trigger.

Daniel Vice, a lawyer with the Brady Center, says: “Our gun laws are so weak that someone who couldn’t get into the military, who was kicked out of school, and who used drugs walked into a gun store and was able to immediately buy a semiautomatic weapon.” That is true. And the implications of his complaints are . . . what, exactly? That military rejects should be barred from gun ownership? That the military should be required to share its psychological evaluations of rejected recruits with law-enforcement authorities? That people expelled from high school should have their rights curtailed? That we should implement national drug tests and curtail the rights of those who fail to pass them? That we should make it easier to declare people mentally incompetent and strip them of their rights?

The shooter had one gun with a 31-round magazine. He might as easily have had three guns with ten-round magazines. Or a pipe bomb, or a truck full of fertilizer. The focus on the gun, as usual, distracts us from the question of the killer. And that often turns out to be a really interesting question.

Most criminals do not commit a mass murder for their first crime, and, indeed, Jared Lee Loughner is reported to have been arrested several times — without having been convicted of a crime. Did the police drop the ball? No one can say at this moment. We are not yet privy to the details of those arrests, but we have good reason to believe that our law-enforcement agencies are not very good at identifying future killers, even when they have them in custody. (That is not necessarily a criticism of our police and prosecutors, merely a recognition of their limitations.) A New York Times study of 1,662 murders committed between 2003 and 2005 found that more than 90 percent of the murderers had criminal records. The Independent Institute cites a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story finding that not only did most of that city’s murder suspects have a criminal past, a fourth of them were on either parole or probation at the time of the killing. This suggests that what is called for is not stricter gun control, but stricter felon control.

But human beings have a great capacity for degeneracy, whatever prior restraints we put on them. From that Times report:

After four years as commander of the Brooklyn North homicide squad, Lt. John Cornicello said the murders in his section of the borough had begun to run together. Yet from memory, he rolled off the details of several: The good Samaritan shot for his Lincoln Navigator after offering a ride to a group of stranded people. The “.40-caliber killer,” a serial murderer who shot and killed but did not rob four shopkeepers because he believed they were Middle Eastern.

“More and more, they seem to be the result of stupidity,” Lieutenant Cornicello said. “Take the Potato Wedge Killer.”

In that recent case, a customer at a KFC restaurant became incensed when he did not receive enough starch with his fried chicken order. After demanding both a refund and an order of potato wedges, he later confronted the cashier with whom he had argued and stabbed him to death.

If the Potato Wedge Killer had been inspired by a demand for s’mores, you can bet that Keith Olbermann would be blaming Sarah Palin for that one, too. But he didn’t use a gun, so the Brady Center took no notice.

– Kevin D. Williamson is a deputy managing editor of National Review and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, which will be published on Tuesday. You can buy an autographed copy through National Review Online here.