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Arizona Shooting Reopens Gun Control Debate

Emergency personnel use a stretcher to carry a shooting victim outside a shopping center in Tucson, Arizona, 08 Jan 2011

Emergency personnel use a stretcher to carry a shooting victim outside a shopping center in Tucson, Arizona, 08 Jan 2011

The shooting that left six people dead and wounded several other people, including U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona on Saturday, has reopened debate over gun laws. The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of citizens to keep and bear arms, but violent incidents like the Tucson shooting often lead to calls for laws that would limit gun ownership and prevent criminals and mentally unstable people from getting guns. But, many people in Arizona feel comfortable with laws that are among the least restrictive in the nation.

Handling rifles and shotguns is a normal part of life for Shawn Duell and his sons. "We primarily own guns for hunting and bringing in food for our family. We also love to target shoot," said Duell.

In fact, Duell says his boys have been so successful as hunters that he rarely has to buy meat at a store.

The Duells live on the outskirts of Tucson, where they can enjoy views of cactus and desert terrain, but crime is still a concern for Shawn Duell. In a safe box in his bedroom, he keeps a semi-automatic handgun.

"Primarily, it is for personal protection and I hope to never have to fire this pistol, but I would rather have it than not have it," he said.

But the shooting in Tucson has focused attention on Arizona's permissive gun laws, which critics say made it easy for accused shooter Jared Loughner to buy a gun.

Jonathan Lowy, with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington, D.C., blames a recent change in Arizona gun laws. "They now allow virtually anyone to carry a concealed handgun without any permit," he said.

Lowy also says federal law should prohibit the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, such as the one used by the gunman in Tucson that held over 30 rounds.

"If he had been prevented from getting that high-capacity magazine, which has no place on our streets, the casualties probably would have been far less," he said.

But the National Rifle Association has successfully lobbied in Washington to prevent such restrictions and most gun owners in Arizona approve. Even Congresswoman Giffords owned a Glock pistol like the one used to shoot her.

Charles Heller, a radio show host and secretary of the pro-gun Arizona Citizens Defense League, says politicians in this state generally do support gun rights.

"There have been some classically unsupportive people of the right to keep and bear arms in Arizona, but generally, any normally aspirated politician is going to understand that if he doesn't support the right to keep and bear arms he does not have a very good chance of being elected," he said.

Heller says Arizonans have a long tradition of gun use and do not fear the sight of a gun being carried in public the way people from other parts of the country might.

"Since the days before Arizona became a state, since territorial days and even before that, firearms have been normal, ordinary, and it is not at all unusual to see someone walk down the street with a sidearm on. It is neither remarkable or unusual," he said.

Not everyone here agrees with that view, however. People gathered at a makeshift memorial outside Congresswoman Gifford's local office said it may time to have more gun control.

"It is too easy to get guns here and I personally think that there is no reason for a citizen to own a semiautomatic pistol," said a woman.

However, a man said, "You need to have protection. Guns belong to the right people, but it is so hard to distinguish who is right and who is wrong."

Jonathan Lowy says responsible gun owners would not be affected by laws aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and lunatics. "The debate is not about pro-gun or anti-gun, it is about whether guns should be in the hands of dangerous people or not," he said.

But gun owners like Shawn Duell think the rare incidents in which someone misuses a gun should not lead to restrictions on their rights.

"I think the vast majority of gun owners are extremely competent, extremely safe and handle their firearms wisely and I really don't have any concerns," said Duell.

Duell is among the many gun owners here who thinks gun control laws would have little effect in preventing shooting incidents like the one here in Tucson last Saturday. But public opinion polls around the country show that many other gun owners would be willing to accept some restrictions if it would prevent such tragedies.