After huddling with detectives and security experts over the weekend, Rep. Peter King, a Long Island Republican, decided to respond to the Tucson tragedy with a legislative proposal: make it illegal to carry a firearm within 1,000 feet of a federal official. In an interview with National Review Online, King explained his rationale and defended the measure’s constitutionality, calling it a “reasonable restriction.”
King, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, acknowledges that his legislation, if it had been on the books, might not have prevented the attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D., Ariz.) and others. “Maybe not in this case, but in others it could be prevention,” he argues.
“It would be helpful to the extent that if the police saw him with a bulge in his pocket or saw him touching his pocket or rubbing his jacket, it could raise their suspicion. Then they could go over, and if he had [a gun], they could make him leave,” King says. “But do I expect someone like [Jared Lee Loughner] to follow the law? Absolutely not.”
What about a situation where a gun is fully concealed and law-enforcement officials are unable to spot anything suspicious? “In that case, then this wouldn’t work, but there can be cases where it will. Would it work in five percent of cases? Ten percent? Twenty percent? Thirty percent? I don’t know, but I do believe it would certainly work in some instances. I don’t see the downside.”
In Tucson, onlooker Joe Zamudio was armed when he witnessed the developing scene in the parking lot. Zamudio, within seconds, had his hand on his gun, ready to shoot, in case Loughner was not subdued. Does King think citizens have the right to be armed, and respond, during unexpected violent outbursts in public?
“It’s more helpful if you had security in the area,” King replies. “If something did start, and police were firing, I would not want a civilian firing at the same time. When we balance the equities, I’m saying there is a greater good to be obtained by keeping weapons out of that thousand-foot zone.”
Enforcement, King admits, would be tricky, so “reasonable exceptions” will be detailed in the legislative language. “I don’t think the federal government has the right to keep someone from bringing a gun to a state or local event,” he says. “We will have to make exceptions, for example, for storeowners who have guns in their store for protection; it’s their right to have them there.”
Another exception may be making the so-called ‘bubble’ around public officials only applicable at public events — enabling neighbors of public officials who may own firearms to not be bothered. “It would be primarily about public events,” King says. “Again, laws should be interpreted reasonably and we will write it to allow reasonable exceptions.”
Ultimately, unlike the Gun-Free School-Zones Act, which was contested several years ago, King believes that his proposal passes the constitutional smell-test, due to its specific federal component. “It will not significantly impact one’s right to bear arms,” he says. Still, he is not expecting much support within the GOP caucus for his idea.