The president of the Brady Center To Prevent Gun Violence told Raw Story that excessively permissive gun laws are a culprit in the tragic shootings of 20 people in Tucson, Ariz. Saturday.
Among those shot by 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner were federal judge John Roll, who was killed, and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who was critically wounded. The gun Loughner used was lawfully purchased, The Associated Press reported.
"Apparently everyone who knew him lately describes him as very disturbed – the military rejected him, the school he was at asked him to leave," Paul Helmke said in an interview. "But those are not disqualifying factors in this country from getting a gun."
The Washington, D.C.-based Brady Center, a leading group in the cause of gun control, was named after President Reagan’s press secretary Jim Brady, who was shot and permanently disabled during an assassination attempt on the president.
"We need to face up to the fact that there is a problem with gun violence in this country," Helmke said, advocating primarily for background checks on anyone seeking to purchase a weapon. "We now allow people to get guns that can shoot a lot of bullets quickly and kill a lot of people, and that's what we saw yesterday.”
Loughner "probably couldn’t have gotten a job at a fast food joint if they checked out any references, but we allow him to buy as many guns as he wants," he said.
The United States has comparatively lax gun laws and also the highest rate of per-capita gun violence in the developed world. The restrictions are especially relaxed in Arizona, which doesn't require permits to purchase a handgun, shotgun or rifle. Its background check only forbids individuals convicted of a crime or found to have a mental illness by a court.
"Obviously, having those sorts of gun-friendly laws in Arizona didn’t help the people in Tucson yesterday," Helmke said.
Gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association invoke the Second Amendment as a constitutional basis for limited restrictions on gun ownership, depicting the right to own a firearm as vital for self-defense against criminals, and, possibly, the government.
They also argue that more firearm ownership makes gun violence less, not more, likely.
Helmke, of course, doesn't buy it. "If more guns made us safer, we’d be the safest country in the world," he said. "And clearly, we're not."
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Arizona does not conduct any background checks for gun purchases -- in fact, screening are conducted, but prospective buyers are only turned down over convictions of a crime or mental illness.