Under the Gun

The push for a universal background check continues as the U.S. Senate gets back to work

Standing in the Safeway parking lot where a madman opened fire on Jan. 8, 2011, Patricia Maisch made a point of remembering the names of all of those who were killed on Jan. 8, 2011.

"I'm Pat Maisch, a survivor of the shooting tragedy right here where Gabby Giffords and 12 others were injured and six of her constituents were murdered," she said. "They were Dorothy Morris, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwan Stoddard, Judge John Roll, Gabe Zimmerman and beautiful little Christina-Taylor Green, just 9 years old."

Maisch, who wrestled an extended magazine away from the shooter and prevented him reloading on that terrible morning, also spoke the names of all of the 20 children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December.

"It took the murders of Daniel and Charlotte and Olivia and Josephine and Ana and Dylan and Madeleine and Catherine and Chase and Jesse and Emilie and James and Jack and Noah and Caroline and Jessica and Avielle and Benjamin and Allison and Gracie to even start the conversation about sensible, public-safety gun laws," Maisch said.

Maisch was just one of those touched by the Tucson tragedy to appear last Wednesday, April 3, for another push to keep the media focused on the issue of gun violence. With her: Pam Simon, the former Giffords aide who was shot twice and now is speaking out against gun violence with the support of Mayors Against Illegal Guns; Daniel Hernandez, the former Giffords intern who provided the congresswoman with first aid in the minutes after the shooting; and Nancy Bowman, a nurse who helped triage the shooting victims before the ambulances arrived on Jan. 8.

Bowman said she sometimes grows weary of the slow pace of the political fight, but then Maisch reminds her "that I can speak out because I'm not a murder victim. I'm not a politician and this whole political process just totally bumfuzzles me. But I do know that we have an epidemic of gun violence in this country, and it's spreading like a terrible disease."

Last week's event focused on the release of America Under the Gun, a report by the Center for American Progress that compared the level of gun violence in all 50 states.

The report pulls together a few key numbers that were available through the Centers for Disease Control, FBI and ATF. They show that Arizona, overall, was ranked fourth in the nation across 10 measures of gun violence. In particular:

• 411 children under 18 years old were killed between 2001 and 2010. That put Arizona as the ninth highest in the nation, adjusted for population.

• 493 women were shot to death between 2001 and 2010. That's the ninth-highest rate in the country, adjusted for population.

• 18 law-enforcement officers were killed with a firearm between 2002 and 2011. That was the seventh-highest rate in the nation, adjusted for population.

The report also compared restrictions on gun ownership in the 50 states and noted that states with fewer gun restrictions tended to have higher incidents of gun violence.

The report did contain a caveat: "While this analysis demonstrates a correlation between weak laws and bad gun-violence outcomes, a correlation does not necessarily imply causation. And of course, a state's gun laws are but one of many factors that influence the rate of gun violence in a state."

One of the report's authors, Arkadi Gerney, urged support for a bill under consideration in the U.S. Senate that would expand background checks.

"We need a universal background check bill to make sure that the laws that we already have—laws that say that felons can't get guns, that domestic abusers can't get guns, that people who are seriously mentally ill can't get guns—that those laws are, in fact, enforceable," Gerney said. "Because having a law against a domestic abuser getting a gun is not a very effective law if that person can go to a gun show or go online or go to a parking lot like this one and buy a gun out of the trunk of a car with no questions asked, and use that gun to kill someone."

Last week's event was just one of many in recent weeks designed to bring attention to issue of gun violence as the U.S. Senate wrapped up its spring recess.

Americans for Responsible Solutions, the political action committee headed up by Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, aired TV spots and plastered websites with ads advocating a universal background check. Mayors Against Illegal Guns continued to coordinate events across the country. Local volunteers delivered petitions to the offices of Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, calling on them to support efforts to expand background checks.

But as the U.S. Senate got back to work Monday, April 8, the question of whether the bill on background checks would even get a vote remained up in the air.

A total of 13 Republican senators, including Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky, have signed a letter saying they'd filibuster a bill expanding background checks that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote last month.

Supporters of expanding the checks to nearly all unlicensed gun sales are holding out hope that they can get the support of Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, according to an April 7 report by the Washington Post.

During a Sunday appearance on Face the Nation, Arizona Sen. John McCain sidestepped a question over whether he supported expanding background checks to gun shows, saying that it would depend on how the checks are done.

But McCain expressed exasperation with Republican colleagues who are threatening to filibuster the legislation.

"I don't understand it," McCain said. "The purpose of the United States Senate is to debate and to vote and to let the people know where we stand. ... What are we afraid of?"

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake has said that expanding background checks to unlicensed sales would require too much paperwork; instead, he wants to see more mentally ill people added to the list of prohibited possessors.

In the Safeway parking lot last week, Maisch expressed her disappointment with Flake's position.

"What good is being on the list if the list is not being checked?" she asked. "It is far easier to get a gun in Arizona than a small package of Sudafed."