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Gun used in Tucson was purchased legally; Arizona laws among most lax in nation
"The people that you would be trying to control are not concerned about breaking some little city ordinance," she said. "If they're thinking about taking life, do you think the fact that their gun isn't properly registered is something that even crosses their minds? That's why the gun restriction laws we just think are ridiculous."
Arizona gun laws were relaxed further in 2010 when Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed a National Rifle Association-backed bill repealing a state law requiring gun owners to have a permit to carry a concealed weapon. State law now permits anyone 21 or older and legally qualified to own a firearm to carry the weapon without a concealed-to-carry permit.
The new law won praise from gun groups.
"This is a major victory for gun owners in Arizona," Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA's political arm in Washington, said at the time. "The NRA is also grateful . . . for this measure making Arizona the third state in the nation behind Vermont and Alaska to offer its residents a constitutional carry option."
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has given Arizona among the poorest ratings of any state. The group assigns as many as 100 points to states for every law or rule passed to limit access to guns; in the organization's 2009 state score card, Arizona earned two points.
"Arizona, as it turns out, has almost no gun laws," said Paul Helmke, director of the Brady group.
A Washington Post analysis of data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives shows that Arizona is a net exporter of guns that are seized in crimes. In 2009, 1,637 guns first purchased in Arizona were recovered at out-of-state crime scenes, according to an analysis of guns traced by ATF. That means that for every 100,000 state inhabitants, 25 guns were exported from Arizona.
Giffords joined a congressional friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to declare the District of Columbia's gun ban unconstitutional. When the Supreme Court issued its 2008 opinion in the D.C. case, Giffords issued a statement praising the decision.
"As a gun owner, I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment," Giffords said. "This is a common-sense decision that reaffirms the Constitutional right - and Arizona tradition - of owning firearms. I commend the court for ruling in favor of restoring our right to bear arms."
But her record garnered only a D rating from the NRA, which endorsed her 2010 Republican opponent, former Marine Sgt. Jesse Kelly, 29. The NRA spent $38,946 in independent efforts to defeat Giffords, who won by two percentage points.
U.S. District Judge John M. Roll, who was killed in the rampage, was one of the first federal judges in 1994 to strike down part of the Brady gun-control law, saying it was unconstitutional for the federal government to require states to conduct background checks. Ultimately, the law was upheld and background checks are required today.
After the shooting, the NRA posted a statement on its Web site.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this senseless tragedy," it said. "We join the rest of the country in praying for the quick recovery of those injured."
Staff writer Sari Horwitz in Tucson contributed to this report.