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The NRA's Post-Tucson Contortions

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In the National Rifle Association's carefully constructed parallel universe, the governing narrative is that "good people with guns" prevent harm from "bad people with guns," unless misguided gun control laws disarm the "good people". It is revealing to watch the NRA twist itself into contortions trying to fit the Tucson mass shooting into this narrative when everything about the shooting contradicts it.

NRA leader Wayne LaPierre put his parallel universe on full display last week in his address to the annual Conservative Political Action Committee meeting. According to LaPierre, the killing of six and the wounding of thirteen in Tucson on January 8 proves that "government failed" and gun laws don't make us safer. Why? Because, he asserted, the shooting occurred in a government-mandated "gun-free school zone," where presumably the shooter did not have to fear that a law-abiding citizen might confront him with a gun.

LaPierre was referring to the federal law barring possession of a gun within 1,000 feet of a school, a law that the NRA adamantly opposed. He said the sidewalk in front of the Safeway in Tucson where the shooter struck was within 1,000 feet of a school located across the street. Even if this were true (and there appears to be a charter school nearby), LaPierre was wrong that gun carrying on that Safeway sidewalk in Tucson was illegal. The NRA appears to be unaware that the federal gun-free school zones law does not apply "on private property not part of school grounds," like Safeway's sidewalk and parking lot. It also does not apply to individuals lawfully licensed to carry guns, of which there are many in Arizona, due to the State's ridiculously permissive laws.

In other words, the Tucson shooter had every reason to expect that Arizonans carrying concealed weapons might be present at the site of his attack. Yet he attacked anyway. In fact, even if the Safeway sidewalk were a "gun-free zone," LaPierre's argument fixing blame on the gun-free school zones law assumes that Loughner chose to attack Rep. Giffords and her constituents at that location because he knew it was "gun-free". Is it really plausible to believe that Jared Loughner knew about the federal law, knew about a nearby school, believed that the Safeway was within a "gun-free zone," and therefore assumed that he would not be challenged by a law-abiding Arizonan with a gun?

LaPierre is forced to embrace such an absurdity to direct attention away from the plain (but highly inconvenient) truth about Tucson: the shooting happened in a state that makes it easy to carry concealed weapons, in a place where the shooter had every reason to expect to be confronted by law-abiding citizens with guns. Yet Loughner was neither deterred by that prospect, nor prevented by other armed citizens from exacting his horrific toll.

In his CPAC speech, LaPierre boldly declared, to loud cheers, that "the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun." LaPierre failed to mention that there actually was a "good guy with a gun" in front of that Safeway. His name was Joseph Zamudio. His gun had nothing do with stopping Loughner from continuing his carnage.

Zamudio has said that he got to the shooter only after someone else had grabbed the gun from Loughner's hands. Zamudio added that he was prepared to "shoot the person with the gun," and initially thought the hero who had the gun was, in fact, the shooter. Thankfully, Zamudio showed sufficient caution that he did not shoot an innocent person. But it is clear that his gun did no one any good that day and came dangerously close to adding to the carnage.

LaPierre also neglected to mention to the adoring CPAC crowd that under the nearly non-existent gun laws of Arizona -- the NRA's version of nirvana -- Jared Loughner himself was "a good guy with a gun," at least until the instant he pulled the trigger. Loughner had passed a background check and was a legal concealed weapon carrier as he approached his targets. Thanks to the NRA, Arizona's laws are so weak that even if the Tucson police had known of the dangerous behavior that led to his dismissal from the local community college, they would have been powerless to take his gun away until he actually fired.

LaPierre ridiculed the idea that "another law or two" could save lives. "If we could legislate evil out of people's hearts," he said, "we would have done it long ago." Decades ago, opponents of civil rights legislation made a similar argument, asserting that "you can't legislate away hatred." The argument was always a red herring; civil rights laws were not passed to eliminate hatred, but rather to protect people from the discriminatory effects of hatred. Similarly, gun laws are not passed to eliminate evil, but rather to protect innocent people from the death and injury caused when those with evil intentions have easy access to lethal weaponry.

It was not a gun law that contributed to death and injury in Tucson, but rather the expiration of one. For ten years, we had in place a federal law limiting the capacity of ammunition magazines for semi-autos to 10 rounds, but that law inexcusably was allowed to expire in 2004 as part of the federal assault weapon ban. The Tucson shooter used a Glock pistol with a 33-round magazine, and he was able to fire over 30 rounds in about 16 seconds. Only when he paused to reload was he subdued by several unarmed citizens. There is no serious doubt that had Loughner been forced to reload after only 10 rounds, he would have been subdued sooner, with lives saved and serious injuries avoided. Wayne LaPierre has no response, except to label as "clowns" those who would dare make military-capacity magazines no longer available to the civilian market.

LaPierre and the rest of the gun lobby bosses will persist in bending reality in service to their parallel universe. The real world was in front of that Safeway in Tucson, where free access to guns did not save lives, but took them.

For more information, see Dennis Henigan's Lethal Logic: Exploding the Myths that Paralyze American Gun Policy (Potomac Books 2009)


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