By Brad Poole
TUCSON, Arizona (Reuters) - A non-profit group plans to hand out free shotguns to residents of Tucson, Arizona in an effort to show that more guns mean less crime.
The Houston, Texas-based Armed Citizens Project has raised about $12,000 or enough to fund about 36 weapons, Shaun McClusky, a Tucson realtor who launched the Tucson effort, told Reuters on Friday.
The group has begun tracking illegal activity in three crime-ridden neighborhoods and will continue to monitor the crime rate after guns are distributed.
"This is about public safety. This is about people protecting themselves," said McClusky, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for mayor in the city's last election.
Each single-shot weapon will come with a lock and training. Single-shot weapons were chosen because they are inexpensive and are unlikely to be stolen as criminals don't want them, McClusky said.
Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik, a Democrat who has advocated for stricter gun controls in Tucson does not agree with the underlying premise of the giveaway program.
"To suggest that giving guns to people in high-crime neighborhoods will make them safer is ridiculous. I think it's dangerous," Kozachik said.
He called the program a "solution seeking a problem," and predicted city residents will reject the program as it becomes more widely publicized.
Tucson rocketed to the forefront of the nation's gun-ownership debate on January 8, 2011, when college dropout Jared Loughner opened fire at a political meet-and-greet with former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Six people died and 13 were injured, including Giffords who was shot in the head with Loughner's legally-obtained Glock handgun. She later resigned from the House of Representatives to focus on her recovery.
Loughner, who was subsequently diagnosed with schizophrenia, pleaded guilty to murder and other charges stemming from the rampage and is serving seven consecutive life sentences and an additional 140 years, without the possibility of parole.
Earlier this year, Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, founded the non-profit Americans for Responsible Solutions to advocate changes in federal gun laws. Giffords and Kelly are gun owners and support background checks for prospective gun owners and limits on the size of ammunition clips.
The Tucson gun giveaway is part of a broader program based in Texas. University of Houston graduate student Kyle Coplen founded the Armed Citizen Project hoping to show that crime rates drop when more residents are armed and trained to use the weapons.
"In training and arming law-abiding residents, we are saturating neighborhoods with defensive weapons, and measuring the effect that a heavily armed society has on crime rates," the group's website says.
McClusky agrees that guns can be an effective deterrent to crime. His current effort will include signs in each neighborhood telling potential criminals the guns have been distributed.
"You won't know where, and you won't know how many," he said.
The effort is locally supported by Black Weapons Armory, a gun shop that specializes in assault-style weapons. The shop will provide background checks and shotguns, said owner Tommy Rompel.
It will be a few weeks before the shop can get guns to residents, because a wave of "panic buying" followed the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut, which left 26 people dead, including 20 children.
Virtually every type of weapon the shop sells - handguns, shotguns and assault-style weapons - is on back order, Rompel said.
"After the Sandy Hook shooting, the entire nation basically went crazy buying guns," he said.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Leslie Gevirtz)