JARED L. LOUGHNER was the one being sentenced for last year’s shooting rampage that left six people dead and 13 wounded. But some of the strongest words of condemnation at his federal sentencing hearing were directed — deservedly so — at the country’s political leaders for their cowardly refusal to debate, let alone deal with, gun violence.
As Mr. Loughner awaited sentencing Thursday for the shooting spree in a Tucson shopping center parking lot that targeted and critically injured Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman’s husband delivered a stinging denouncement of the failure to enact meaningful gun control. Mark Kelly’s powerful words bear repeating:
“We have a political class that is afraid to do something as simple as have a meaningful debate about our gun laws and how they are being enforced. We have representatives who look at gun violence not as a problem to solve but as the white elephant in the room to ignore. As a nation we have repeatedly passed up the opportunity to address this issue. After Columbine; after Virginia Tech; after Tucson and after Aurora we have done nothing.”
U.S. District Court Judge Larry A. Burns, who sentenced the 24-year-old defendant to the seven consecutive life terms plus 140 years in prison that was a condition of his guilty plea agreement, expressed wonder at allowing the unrestricted sale of high-capacity magazines like the one Mr. Loughner used. Judge Burns was careful to note that he was just “a single federal judge” who had “no intention to change the law.” But the decision by state and national figures to go AWOL on gun control in fear of what they perceive to be the powerful clout of the national gun lobby leaves this critical public safety issue unaddressed.
Consider that the recently concluded presidential campaign barely heard mention of gun violence; it came up only in a single question at a presidential debate that essentially went unanswered. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), whom Mr. Kelly called out for “feckless” leadership on gun control, responded that it would be inappropriate to engage in politics on the solemn occasion of justice to the victims of the Tucson shooting being meted out. It’s a common politicians’ dodge, used whenever a mass shooting occurs and they don’t want to be put on the spot about the need for rational gun regulation.
Examination by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence of spending by the National Rifle Association in the 2012 elections showed that, of the $11.8 million spent to defeat President Obama and $3.4 million across six key Senate races — 88 percent of its federal independent expenditures — the gun lobby could claim no victories; all of its candidates lost. This evidence that the association’s ability to influence elections may be exaggerated should stiffen the spines of Mr. Obama and congressional leaders to take on this important issue — before another person touched by gun violence has to stand up in court to offer words about the horrors of loss.