- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 11, 2011

TUCSON, Ariz. | Jared Lee Loughner had trouble with the law, was rejected by the Army because of a history of drug use and was considered so mentally unstable that he was banned from his college campus, where officials considered him a threat to other students and faculty.

But the 22-year-old had no trouble buying the Glock semiautomatic pistol that authorities say he used in the Tucson rampage Saturday that left six dead and 14 injured, including Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Mr. Loughner’s personal history did not disqualify him under federal rules, and Arizona doesn’t regulate gun sales. His criminal charges ultimately were dismissed, the Army information was private, and Pima Community College isn’t saying whether it shared its concerns about Mr. Loughner with anyone besides his parents.

Mr. Loughner cleared a federal background check and bought the pistol at a big-box sports store near his home on Nov. 30 — two months after he was suspended by the college. He customized the weapon with an extended ammunition clip that would have been illegal six years earlier.

Gun-control advocates say the shooting shows that Arizona, home of some of the nation’s most permissive gun laws, must review its laws to make sure firearms are not falling into the wrong hands. Gun-rights proponents disagree and say more regulation would not have stopped the tragedy.

Arizona eased gun restrictions last year when it passed a law allowing residents 21 and older to conceal and carry a weapon without a permit, which allowed Mr. Loughner to covertly — and legally — carry his pistol to the mall where he is accused of opening fire.

No permits or licenses are required at the state level. Legal gun owners can bring concealed weapons into Arizona bars and restaurants, and state legislators are considering allowing students and teachers to have weapons in schools.

After the shooting, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik berated Republican lawmakers who have sought to further ease state gun laws.

“I think we’re the Tombstone of the United States of America,” the Democrat said, referring to the Wild West town populated by gunslingers. “I have never been a proponent of letting everybody in this state carry weapons under any circumstances that they want, and that’s almost where we are.”

Charles Heller, co-founder and secretary of an Arizona group that promotes gun rights, said more regulation is not a solution.

“Why don’t we ban murder? … Murders are illegal and people do it anyway,” he said. “There is no way to weed people out.”

Outside Sportsman’s Warehouse, the cavernous store where Mr. Loughner purchased his Glock, gun owner Jason Moats said that “the bad guys can get the guns either way.” He suggested that the shootings could have been less tragic had there been one more weapon out there, rather than one less.

If someone at the mall had been armed and had shot Mr. Loughner, ending the attack, “the guy would be a hero,” said Mr. Moats, a 25-year-old route manager for a waste-hauling company.

Eyewitnesses say Mr. Loughner was subdued after he tried to insert a second magazine into his pistol.

Federal law bars gun ownership for people who have been judged dangerously mentally ill by a court and those who have been committed to a mental institution, thresholds that didn’t disqualify Mr. Loughner.

“It’s not easy to draw that line” of when a person’s mental illness should disqualify him from owning a weapon, said Michael J. Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, an advocacy group.

“The reality is most people with mental illness are not violent,” he said. “The issue, frankly, is getting people into treatment. It’s not about guns.”

Mr. Loughner was able to buy an extended magazine that was prohibited under federal law between 1994 and 2004, although many were in circulation before that time and remained legal. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat, said in a statement Monday that he will introduce a bill to ban high-capacity gun magazines.

“The only reason to have 33 bullets loaded in a handgun is to kill a lot of people very quickly,” Mr. Lautenberg said in a statement.

Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, is taking a different approach. He said he plans to introduce a bill that would make it illegal to knowingly carry a gun within 100 feet of “certain high-profile” government officials.

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