Jacob Sullum

Jared Lee Loughner, the man accused of shooting 20 people outside a Tucson, Ariz., grocery store on Saturday, probably will never get a chance to create the "new money system" he discusses in one of his rambling YouTube videos. But he can still have an important effect on public policy -- if we let him.

After the shocking attack -- which killed six people, including U.S. District Judge John Roll and 9-year-old Christina Green, and wounded 14, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. -- there was no shortage of knee-jerk proposals for preventing future outbursts of senseless violence. Most of them would sacrifice Americans' freedom in a vain attempt to protect us from armed lunatics.

At a press conference on Saturday, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik decried Arizona's permissive gun laws. "I have never been a proponent of letting everybody in this state carry weapons under any circumstances that they want," he said, "and that's almost where we are." Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, echoed Dupnik's concern, saying Arizona "has almost no gun laws."

The logic here may be even harder to follow than the reasoning that links the Tucson murders to Sarah Palin. A man bent on assassinating a member of Congress, a man who thinks nothing of gunning down a 9-year-old girl, is not likely to have compunctions about carrying a firearm without a permit.

In retrospect, it may seem obvious that someone like Loughner never should have been able to own a gun in the first place. "Why are crazy people allowed to buy weapons in this country?" wondered Time columnist Joe Klein. Helmke complained that "we make it too easy for dangerous and irresponsible people to get guns in this country." They noted that Loughner was suspended from college for disrupting classes with strange comments and that one of his fellow students called him "very disturbed."

But Loughner was never "adjudicated as a mental defective" or "committed to a mental institution," which would have disqualified him from buying a gun under federal law, and his behavior in school, though off-putting, was not violent.

There is no reliable way of predicting which tiny percentage of the country's many oddballs and malcontents will convert weird ideas into homicidal actions. That reality may be scary, but it is not nearly as scary as a legal regime that strips citizens of their Second Amendment rights based on the opinions they express.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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