For pro-gun groups and the Sarah Palin crowd, the inevitable reaction to a massacre by a gun user is a call for looser gun rules. There is another urban legend, ab initio, that somehow if good pistol-packing folks were present the killer would have been foiled.
And one such claim came right from Arizona, or as Tucson Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik calls it, the Tombstone State. Republican Congressman Trent Franks believes it could have been stopped if there had been just one gun in the right hands. Or could it have turned into the gunfight at the OK Corral with the bad guys, the Clancy brothers, all dead, and the good guys, the Earp brothers, all surviving. And one of the gun guys was a dentist.
The story became fodder for a movie industry that worshiped gunmen for their at killing with ordinary old six shooters. There is a remake of True Grit popular in theaters now. During its heydays there was even room for women: Calamity Jane.
These cold-blooded killers didn't even need any automatic or semi-automatic weapons.
As for Arizona, the state already has among the loosest gun laws in the nation. "I have never been a proponent of letting everybody in this state carry weapons under any circumstances they want. And that's almost where we are," Dupnik said after Saturday's shootings. Restrictions have been applied to the sale of guns at gasoline stations, however, so if you are a hurry to kill a lot of people probably best to get your weapon ahead of time.
In Colorado, a handful of law officers have argued that if there had been teachers or others with guns at Columbine High School the massacre could have stopped and the death count would have been lower. The sheriff in Larimer County, more famous for his capture of the "Balloon Boy," is one of those. Jim Alderden said his staff would not enforce a gun ban on the campus of Colorado State University. He told the Colorado Springs Gazette that it would put innocent people in harm's way, and criminals would ignore it.
Few people know America's gun laws, and how such weapons have been used through our history, better than Tom Mauser. After his son, Daniel, was killed at Columbine he began to campaign for stricter gun laws.
I reached out to him. I had the notion that even though plenty of robberies have been stopped by liquor store owners pulling a gun from behind the counter, no massacres had been stopped by citizen police even though gun ownership and the legalization of guns has increased dramatically.
Mauser told me that I was wrong. There is one case he knows of, there is a disagreement on what happened in subduing the killer. It occurred at the Appalachian School of Law on Jan. 16, 2002. A student who had killed three people, wounded three others and was about to kill more was stopped. Two men, both law officers, rushed to their cars to get their weapons. Meanwhile, a third man, an ex-marine and also a law officer, knocked the killer down as the two men with guns arrived.
Mauser believes in such situations that holding a gun isn't enough. The user would need training, not just for the obvious need to avoid firing indiscriminately, but also because the natural reaction to a series of gun shots is going to be to seek cover. Mauser is finishing a book on Columbine and what followed it.