Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), one of the fiercest gun-control advocates in Congress, told NPR's Steve Inskeep that she will introduce legislation to outlaw the kinds of high-capacity ammunition magazines used in Saturday's shootings.
"We're not dealing about guns here," she said. "We're dealing about a piece of equipment that goes [on] the gun. I think when you think about just common sense here, large capacity clips that can basically, in my opinion, be weapons of mass destruction, should not be available to the general public."
Since Saturday's mass shooting in Tucson, the nation's gunlaws have come into the spotlight. Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik introduced the issue strongly during a press conference.
"I have never been a proponent of letting everybody in this state cary weapons under any circumstances that they want and that's almost where we are," he said.
Gabriel Chin, a law professor at the University of Arizona, told NPR's Michele Norris that gun laws in the state are indeed some of the more lax ones in the country and have gotten more "permissive" every year.
Twenty-two-year-old Jared Loughner, who is the suspected shooter, had been arrested in 2007 for possession of drug paraphernalia. The charges were dismissed, so he was able to buy the Glock-19 pistol and the high-capacity magazine he allegedly used in the shooting spree legally.
Chin says there are few reasons why a person wouldn't be allowed to buy a gun in Arizona. If you've been indicted of a felony or are under a restraining order in a domestic setting, for example, you'd be denied a weapon. But Loughner's background — including his five run-ins with Pima Community College campus police and subsequent suspension — would have never figured in a background search that is only looking for "very serious things."
Fresh Air spoke to Washington Post reporter James Grimaldi, who said that unlike most states in the country, Arizona state law allows anyone over the age of 21 to own a fire arm and carry it concealed.
"There's a proposal [in Arizona] that would allow teachers and students to carry [weapons] into classrooms and that was meant to be a hedge against what happened at Virginia Tech," said Grimaldi. "It's permitted in a bar [to carry a weapon] in Arizona if the person who has the weapon is not imbibing in alcohol. It's also permitted on school grounds currently if the person is picking up or dropping off a child as long as the weapon is unloaded and the gun owner remains in the vehicle."
Chin, who is also co-director of the university's program in criminal law, characterizes the state like this: "[Arizona is] a state where the idea is that everyone who is an adult and a citizen or a lawful permanent resident is entitled to carrry guns. The idea is that the more people who carry guns the greater the deterent to crime is and the greater the likelihood that a bystander on the street will be able to intervene in a violent situation.
"It's ironic that the people who intervened [in this shooting] didn't do so with guns; they just tackled the person and that worked."
It's worth noting that the American public's appetite for stricter gun laws has fallen off over the years. The New York Times reports that in Gallup surveys, the number of Americans who said the U.S. needs stronger gun-control laws has been in decline for 20 years. In 1990, when the question was first asked, 78 percent favored stricter laws. That number has been been 44 percent in 2009 and 2010.
Rep. McCarthy, whose husband was killed by a gunman in 1993, said she understands the climate in Congress has shifted in that direction also. Even Rep. Gabriel Giffords, the congressowoman who suffered a gunshot to head in the attack, was an ardent supporter of Second Amendment rights.
So McCarthy told Inskeep she wants to pass legislation that a large number of lawmakers will find reasonable. She wants to pass legislation that Giffords would find acceptable and legislation that "she thinks will protect her constituents."