It is, of course, reason to celebrate that Flagstaff is on track to finish 2011 without a single murder inside the city.
Flagstaff is hardly Mayberry, RFD, but violent crimes of all types have plummeted in recent years, thanks to more community policing and better use of neighborhood-level police reports.
We'd like to think that the absence of a murder so far this year is due, in part, to those initiatives by the police and community leaders.
But we are also realistic enough to know that lethal violence in a state with lax gun laws is hard to keep at a zero level for long. As every study shows, more guns mean more gun violence, everything else being equal. But with every state, city or region being different, establishing direct causation between restrictive gun laws and lower crime is like hitting a moving target. Other socioeconomic factors, like poverty and education, also play key roles in gun violence rates.
If Arizona's cities, counties and even universities were in control of their own fates on gun access, at least local citizens would feel more empowered to demand change at the local level when gun policies don't work out.
But the Republican majority in the Legislature, marching in lockstep with the National Rifle Association, has gradually removed that local control even as they rail against federal interference in state affairs. Although many of them campaign as law-and-order candidates, they routinely tie the hands of police chiefs and county attorneys on proven ways to reduce or penalize gun violence, including background checks of gun show purchases and mandatory training for carriers of concealed weapons.
Two years ago, GOP lawmakers pushed through a bill that dropped permit requirements -- including background checks -- for any carrier of a concealed weapon. Cities were prohibited from enacting their own permit systems.
Then, again over the opposition of local police, they allowed the owner of a handgun with a concealed weapons permit to carry it into a bar unless the bar owner complied precisely with detailed posting rules.
GUNS IN LIBRARIES?
Last year, the GOP majority tried to force local libraries and other public agencies to allow in people carrying guns unless the agencies posted armed security guards -- a cost they knew cities and counties couldn't afford. Gov. Brewer vetoed the bill, saying it was unclear whether schools would be included, even though federal law already bans all weapons at K-12 schools. Look for a similar bill to return next session.
Brewer also vetoed a bill that would have allowed anyone to carry a weapon onto a university campus public right-of-way (buildings were exempted in the face of strong opposition by campus police and university presidents). Now lawmakers are planning to return with a bill allowing carriers of concealed weapons permits to bring a weapon into a university parking lot. Buildings would be exempt if signs were posted and gun storage provided.
SECOND AMENDMENT RIGHTS
Proponents of looser gun restrictions contend that citizens have a right to defend themselves in public spaces -- or be protected by armed guards. Further, the Second Amendment right to carry a gun largely unregulated by the government outweighs both the responsibility to learn how to use it safely and the downside resulting from unsafe use in a crowded situation.
But nearly every law enforcement official in Arizona says that more guns mean less public safety. Critics say police will always want to retain their advantage in weaponry, but police point out they are first in the line of fire in many confrontations -- five officers in Arizona were killed in the line of duty in 2011, 10th highest in the nation. Police also contend that the risk of injury caused by more guns inside a building is far greater than if guns are banned, with stiff penalties serving as a strong deterrent.
Further, if a shooting were to occur, untrained bystanders -- Arizona has dropped its training requirement -- firing their weapons would almost surely cause more injuries.
We suppose the fact that Republican lawmakers now only want guns on campus if they are carried by those with concealed weapons permits shows they are listening. But every expert who has testified says that allowing anyone with a gun inside a college classroom filled with sleep-deprived, hair-trigger young adults is a prescription for disaster.
WILD WEST LEGACY
The lesson of Virginia Tech and the Gabrielle Giffords shootings is that unhinged individuals bent on mass murder need to be identified early, isolated and treated, if necessary. That is tough work and it involves everyone, including family, friends, teachers and health professionals. Simply assuming that the problem of lethal gun violence in our society will be solved by turning bystanders inside a library or a classroom loose on a gunman shows neither understanding nor compassion. As Arizona approaches its centennial year as a state, it's time we overcome our Wild West legacy of violence and retribution, not replicate it.