Gun control: New York does it better
Could the Tucson shooting rampage been avoided had Arizona made it harder for would-be gun owners to get a pistol permit? Maybe. Robert Spitzer, political scientist and author of "The Politics of Gun Control," joined Terry Gross for Thursday's episode of NPR's "Fresh Air" to explain.
"Mental health information is gathered on a state-by-state basis, and state practices vary widely. So in the state of Arizona, [accused killer] Jared Loughner didn't need to get a permit at all to get a handgun, and the only real requirement he had to fulfill was the federal requirement of a background check through the federal provision enacted as the Brady Law back in 1993. His name was not already on a list in the federal data bank, so his name was not rejected for the handgun purchase he made last November. Even though it was clear that he had mental problems, nobody in his family or the college where he has been attending had actually taken formal steps, nor the local police, to actually get a judge to actually say, 'This man is mentally incompetent and should undergo treatment.'"
Now, if Loughner lived in New York, there's a very good chance he wouldn't have been able buy a gun, legally at least. Spitzer continued:
"I would also make the comparison between a state like Arizona and a state like New York state. In New York state, when citizens apply for a pistol permit in order to then purchase a handgun legally, the state of New York asks for quite a bit more information. They ask for four character references, and the permit applicant needs to go before a local judge and say, 'This is why I would like to have a handgun,' before they can get the OK to do it. And in that more lengthy and detailed process, including the process of interviewing and consulting with character references; had Mr. Loughner lived in New York state, it's abundantly clear he would not have been able to get a permit."
That certainly seems like a more responsible approach. One flaw, however, is that if you make it too hard for people to get a gun, they may just take their exasperated selves to the black market, where it's not only easy to buy a weapon, but it's possible to have the barrel of the gun cut up (like one might take a razor blade to their fingertips) so that the weapon and the bullets become untraceable. Or they could just buy a used gun at a gun show.
-- Alexandra Le Tellier
Photo: Arizona massacre suspect Jared Lee Loughner. Credit: HO / AFP/Getty Images