One Montana Hunter’s View of the Tucson Shootings

The shooting tragedy in Tucson at a public “meet your congressional representative” event where six people were killed and many more wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), again raises complex questions about handguns, gun controls and associated issues.

I’ve held off commenting for a couple weeks while facts emerge about the incident. Obviously, that hasn’t prevented others from making instant judgments.

Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of Pima County jumped into the fray early when he made remarks about “vitriolic rhetoric” being a factor in the shooting, a reference to the 2010 political campaign in which Rep. Giffords’ congressional district was the  target in a representation of telescopic sights. I agree with the sheriff’s opinion about the tone of rhetoric in last year’s political campaigns, though as facts emerged it seems certain the gunman was not politically motivated.

Rush Limbaugh, as always the epitome of rational comment, ranted that Sheriff Dupnik should be recalled for suggesting that the rhetoric should be toned down.

An off the wall reaction to the shooting was the report that on the Monday after the Saturday shooting, Arizona firearms dealers had a 60 percent increase in handgun sales, presumably by buyers fearing the shooting would lead to gun control legislation.

The National Rifle Association has been strangely quiet. Their website, even two weeks after the shooting, shows only a statement of sympathy and concern to victims and families.

Other organizations are less subdued. Gun Owners of America, an organization that makes the NRA seem moderate, issued statements on their website that the incident only demonstrates that more people should be carrying handguns, and specifically defending large capacity magazines for those handguns.

That thinking was reflected by some Montana legislators who said the incident demonstrates that legislators should be allowed to carry concealed weapons in the state capitol (guns are not now allowed in the capitol building). They cited a story of a gunman who invaded a Utah legislative session, only to be greeted by half a dozen legislators pointing pistols at him. A good story, though the Utah senate president says it’s bunkum.

Speaking of bunkum, Tea Party darling Sarah Palin went off on a rant against people who suggested that gun sight images on political ads were inappropriate. She carried on at length to convince Palinistas that she was the real victim in the whole affair. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson says Palin’s insistence on portraying herself as a martyr reminds him of Eva Peron, and that she should find a good balcony for her next address.

There are ironies in the case. The gunman committed the carnage with a 9 mm. Glock semiautomatic pistol. Rep. Giffords, herself, has been supportive of gun rights and reportedly has a 9 mm. Glock of her own.

An undisputed fact is that the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was well known by many to be mentally ill, a sad and lonely person slipping into insanity. In that respect he has a lot in common with other perpetrators of mass killings. Yet he was able to purchase his Glock without difficulty, even buying more ammunition the morning of the shooting.

Loughner is another illustration of the health care system’s failures to recognize and treat people falling off the deep end. If we had really been paying attention we would have gotten him into a treatment program and, as a further step, sent law enforcement agencies to impound firearms he might own until he recovered.

Secondly, and I write this as an long-time firearms owner and user, we need to put some realistic controls on gun sales that would put meaningful barriers in the way of people like Loughner. Don’t hold your breath on that one, though. The gun lobby either owns or has so successfully intimidated so many members of Congress that it’ll never happen. You don’t have to look any farther than Montana’s Congressional delegation for examples of the owned and/or gutless.

If I sound extreme, just ask yourself this question: How many mass murders and dead children must we tolerate?