Let's posit the argument, as made by Ron Smith in Friday's column, that political rhetoric had no bearing on the actions of Jared Loughner in Tucson last week ("Mental illness, not political speech, to blame for bloodbath," Jan. 14). He is a deeply disturbed individual, like John Hinckley and Mark David Chapman. But Mr. Smith conveniently sidesteps a key issue.
This person had a history of unstable and erratic behavior that goes back several years, but he had never been committed to a mental institution and had no police record. He was able not only to purchase a pistol and ammunition and to carry it concealed on his person long enough to walk right up to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords before anyone knew he had a weapon, he also had a large enough magazine to have 31 shots at his disposal so that instead of shooting one or two people before having to reload, he was able to kill six and injure 14 more in a matter of seconds. Clearly background checks in their current form simply cannot screen the people who need to be screened. Most people who knew Mr. Loughner also feared he was a walking time bomb, but that had no effect on his ability to purchase both the gun and the ammunition.
The argument that we would all be safer and these threats would be mitigated if everyone had concealed weapons is not logically defensible. If others had weapons in their hands in that crowd, perhaps someone would have shot Mr. Loughner before he could fire all of his bullets. On the other hand, it's equally possible that others would have been caught in the crossfire and more deaths would have resulted. In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings, would those of us in college classrooms be safer if not one but multiple people in the room were carrying concealed weapons? Better if it were much more difficult for a Jared Loughner or a Seung-Hui Cho to get his hands on a gun and ammunition in the first place than if the protection against that person was just the chance of a wild-west shootout in a confined space with bullets flying in multiple directions.
Law-abiding citizens who want to have a handgun for protection, either concealed or not, should have to apply for permits to carry them and have much more thorough background checks — including history of domestic or workplace disturbance, mental health assessments and run-ins with the police. That may not stop criminals from getting stolen weapons — although in fact many of the weapons that fall into criminal hands are purchased legally and then resold to criminals, with minimal regulatory intervention — but it might well have stopped Jared Loughner from simply walking into a store and purchasing both gun and ammunition without raising any red flags.
I'm not allowed to operate a motor vehicle without carrying insurance, passing a test and renewing my license every five years, and I find it incomprehensible that a device designed for the express purpose of killing people involves less regulation than a motor vehicle. So, my question to Ron Smith is this:
Is the right of just about anyone other than a convicted felon to purchase a Glock pistol with a 31-bullet magazine and carry it concealed in a public place worth the life of a 9-year-old girl, not to mention all of the others? What if it were your granddaughter or your wife in the line of fire? What principle is being protected here?