'I'm buying more guns before they tighten up the state laws'
Published 12/01/2011 | 00:07
Trade was roaring at the gun counter of the Sportsman's Warehouse in Tucson on Sunday afternoon, where roughly 30 types of shotguns competed for shelf space with 100 pistols, 50 rifles and enough ammunition to fuel more than one decent shootout at the nearby the OK Corral.
Just a day had passed since Jared Lee Loughner allegedly launched a deadly shooting spree using a gun purchased from the very same store, but patrons were undeterred. Richard Tucker and his eight-year-old daughter, Emily, spent the afternoon examining a Smith & Wesson revolver, the quintessential firearm of the old wild west.
They were pondering whether to add it to the small armoury at their home in Drexel Heights, a residential neighbourhood on the outskirts of the Arizonan desert city.
"For hunting, I already own two rifles, a shotgun, and a crossbow, and in addition to that, I like to keep a couple of pistols around the house for personal protection," Mr Tucker said. "But this will really be more a toy: something to take out to the range and clip paper targets. When the children are a little older, it'll also be a good gun for them to learn to shoot with."
Pistols are not cheap, and Mr Tucker's potential purchase ran to almost $400 (£257), before tax. But he had decided to make the expensive investment because of the tragic shooting spree which had taken place at a Safeway store just a few miles away, shortly after 10am on Saturday.
"I've been on God's earth long enough to know that liberals never let a crisis go to waste," he said. "So the moment I heard that Congresswoman Giffords had been shot, I knew people would once again be talking about the Second Amendment, and using this one terrible event to try to tighten Arizona's gun laws. And before that happens, I'm buying more guns."
The Sportsman's Warehouse was nonetheless an eerie choice of retailer to make that purchase. After all, on 30 November, Mr Loughner, 22, is believed to have wandered up to the same counter of the same store, flashed his driver's licence and walked away with the $439.99 Glock semi-automatic pistol allegedly used to kill six people and injure 14 others on Saturday.
Whatever the motivation behind the shooting, it seems likely that Arizona's gun laws will now come under fresh scrutiny. The state boasts the most relaxed gun regulations the United States, which in turn has the fewest restrictions on firearm ownership in the developed world.
That makes for some strange inconsistencies. While laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol to anyone under the age of 21 are enforced with a zeal that sees OAPs forced to show official identification to be served at Tucson's airport bar, deadly firearms can be purchased by almost any Arizonan who has reached their 18th birthday.
Would-be gun owners must first pass an FBI background check. But Mr Loughner's case suggests these are not exactly rigorous: he got the green light despite a long history of psychological problems which had seen him twice arrested by the police, expelled from college for threatening behaviour and refused entry to the Army because of previous drug offences.
Once firearms have been purchased, recent changes in Arizona law have meanwhile made it even easier for people to carry out attacks. Voters recently agreed to allow citizens over the age of 21 to carry a concealed weapon without a permit in public.
Such is the pervading atmosphere that Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff of Pima County, used a press conference on Sunday to declare: "We're the tombstone of the US. I have never been a proponent of letting everybody in this state carry weapons whenever they want and that's almost where we are."
The Sportsman's Warehouse, which largely sells equipment designed for field sports and does not stock some of the assault rifles and military paraphernalia common in more gung-ho outlets, instructed staff not to speak with the media about Mr Loughner's case. Its manager passed The Independent the number of the firm's head office in Utah, to which calls were not returned.
Advocates of gun reform are not being so reticent. On Sunday, a Democratic Congresswoman, Carolyn McCarthy, announced that she intended to introduce nationwide legislation that will make it harder for dangerous individuals to purchase the most deadly weapons.