There is a lot of blame going around for the rampage in Tucson aimed at Representative Gabrielle Giffords last Saturday, leaving the Congresswoman in critical condition, six others dead, and fourteen wounded. Liberals have pointed to disturbing right-wing violent rhetoric, like Sarah Palin's infamous crosshair map and Glenn Beck's daily panic sessions, as bound to have consequences eventually. Chief wingnut rhetorician Rush Limbaugh has fired back, amazingly casting himself as the victim, claiming that Democrats have leapt on the tragedy to attack their political opponents.
The merits -- or lack thereof -- of such statements are largely self-evident. But one name which has been curiously absent from the angry accusations is that of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. While Brewer was making headlines last April for signing Arizona's now-infamous draconian immigration law, she was also obliterating the last of the state's gun regulations. Thanks to SB 1108, Arizona has become the third -- and most populous -- state to allow citizens to carry concealed guns without a permit. Arizona residents with guns may carry them concealed almost anywhere, including in government buildings, the state Capitol, and into bars and restaurants which serve alcohol, as long as they don't consume any. One of the only exceptions to the broad permission is a ban on guns in classrooms -- but don't worry, there is a proposal in the Arizona legislature which would put guns in schools as well. Not content with making the entire state a gun-friendly zone, Brewer also took the shockingly irresponsible step of eliminating as many background checks as she could. Background checks on gun purchases are mandatory under federal law, but Brewer did exempt guns "made and kept in Arizona" from them, and from federal regulations entirely. Puzzlingly, no description could be found of how Brewer foresaw that a given firearm would never be taken out of Arizona.
Brewer willfully and happily removed all gun safety regulations she possibly could. Thanks to her, it became possible for anyone over 21 to buy a gun, avoid a background check, and be legally allowed to carry it, hidden, anywhere they chose, including to political events. At the time of the law's passing, one sheriff noted that "the new law will allow people who have had no education about Arizona's laws and no training on the shooting range to carry a concealed gun." But Brewer saw herself as a crusader for the Second Amendment. To her, the right to keep and bear arms also apparently entails the right to take them anywhere without demonstrating knowledge of how to use them or the mental capacity to own a deadly weapon. Her statement:
I believe strongly in the individual rights and responsibilities of a free society, and as governor I have pledged a solemn and important oath to protect and defend the Constitution. I believe this legislation not only protects the Second Amendment rights of Arizona citizens, but restores those rights as well.
No doubt Brewer looked on her state's abysmal 2 out of 100 rating by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence as a point of pride. But neither she nor any conscientious lawmaker can smugly extol Second Amendment abstractions in the face of the very real horrors that lax gun laws led to last Saturday. As of now, in our Constitution, there is a place for the responsible ownership of guns. But the fact of the matter remains that guns are meant to kill, and that lawmakers have a responsibility to reduce potential fatalities to the best of their abilities.
Arizona's laws were in no way, shape, or form written with reducing fatalities in mind. There is nothing in the existing laws -- or lack thereof -- to prove that safety was even a consideration. There is no reason that Brewer and the Arizona legislature should have gone out of their way to eliminate background checks as far as legally possible. There is no reason that Jared Lee Loughner should have been able to buy a semiautomatic weapon, useful for nothing but killing a lot of people quickly. There is no reason he should have been able to carry it concealed to Representative Giffords' discussion -- or anywhere else -- without even having to go through some extra paperwork.
We cannot stop every deranged gunman. There will always be truly determined, evil people who will find a way to hurt and kill innocent people. But this does not mean that our laws should make it easy for them. Unless lawmakers like Jan Brewer learn from this tragedy and accept the fact that they are responsible for protecting their constituents' lives as well as their right to bear arms, more disasters like the attempted assassination of Representative Giffords will occur. Our elected officials must take away the right lesson from the Tucson massacre: that the right to bear arms also entails serious responsibilities, both for their constituents and for themselves.