Steve Chapman

It has been a dismal decade for gun control advocates. They lost the federal so-called assault weapons ban when it expired in 2004. The Supreme Court made history by proclaiming an individual right to own firearms for self-defense. A Democratic president came into office vowing not to take away anyone's guns.

So it's no surprise that anti-gun forces would take the mass shooting in Tucson as a rare opportunity to reverse their fortunes. It's also no surprise that their proposals are models of futility.

Gun control has faltered mainly because it hasn't worked. And nothing in the new recommendations offers hope of success.

The first idea came from Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., who wants to ban all ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds -- which was the rule under the assault weapons law. Her rationale is that the rampage ended when the shooter exhausted a 30-round clip and tried to reload, at which point he was subdued. With a 10-round clip, he could have been stopped sooner.

Maybe so. But Jared Loughner apparently put some planning into this attack, and had the laws been different, he might have planned around them.

Suppose he couldn't go to the gun shop and buy a new 30-round clip. He could have bought a used one, which could be legally sold under the expired federal law. Or he could have bought extra weapons to avoid the need to reload -- like the shooter in the 2008 Northern Illinois University slaughter, who had a shotgun and three handguns.

Passing a law to head off a freakishly rare occurrence is probably a waste of time. Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck says that of the hundreds of mass shootings that have occurred in this country, he knows of only one in which a gunman was stopped because he had to reload -- a 1993 episode on the Long Island Railroad.

A measure offered by Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., offers even less promise. He wants to make it a crime to knowingly carry a firearm within 1,000 feet of a president, vice president, member of Congress or federal judge.

That would punish law-abiding citizens who have no aggressive intentions -- say, someone who parks a block away from a campaign rally on his way to the target range. But it would have been only a paper barrier to Loughner, who ignored a host of laws on his way to shoot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

The group Mayors Against Illegal Guns fantasizes that King's bill "would give federal, state, and local law enforcement a better chance to intercept would-be shooters before they pull the trigger." Not unless the gunmen announce themselves, it wouldn't.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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