See Slate's complete coverage of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting and arrest of Jared Lee Loughner.
Arizona's Legislature began its new session Monday, guns in tow. At a rally outside of the state Capitol, a 73-year-old Tea Party activist named Arthur Olivas Jr. was photographed wearing a holstered pistol. Anyone who blamed the Tea Party for the slaughter outside a Tucson Safeway, he said, didn't understand the movement and didn't understand gun rights.
"If you see 20 guns out there," Olivas told Politico, "you would not be stupid enough to hold up a bank or shoot anyone because you would have guns pointed at you."
Olivas had company inside the Capitol. The 2010 election saw Arizona Republicans build on the gains they made in 2008, winning a two-thirds majority in the House and holding a 21-9 seat margin in the Senate. In their last session, those Republicans had passed gun-rights laws that had been vetoed for years until President Obama plucked Janet Napolitano out of the governor's mansion; she was replaced by Republican Jan Brewer. This year's session promised to be even better: Incoming Senate Majority Leader Russell Pearce has called himself the "Tea Party Senate president-elect."
The Tea Party Senate is off to a solid start. On day one, Sen. Jack Harper was moving H.B. 2001, legislation that would allow community college faculty members to carry concealed weapons on campus.
It makes sense. Pima Community College Professor Benjamin McGahee had been telling reporters that he'd "always turn back quickly" from the whiteboard when he taught alleged Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner, fretting over whether his student had a gun. And while he hasn't introduced it yet, Harper has talked about filing legislation to let students carry concealed weapons, too, and has talked up his chances of success. "A couple of 'country club Republicans' who were opposed," he said in December, "will not return." It's a bold new Senate.
Harper wasn't available to talk today, although he did get into a tete-a-tete with Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik over who deserved the blame for the Tucson rampage. Staff with Pima Community College Campus Police's would only say that they, like the campus police of Arizona's state universities, opposed H.B. 2001.
That might not matter. In Washington, for the first time in years, reporters are paying attention to a gun-control campaign. This week, two Democrats will introduce legislation that would ban high-capacity magazines, like the kind allegedly used in Tucson by Loughner. But Democrats haven't passed gun-control legislation at the federal level since 1993, and even a sponsor of the bill, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, is cautious about its chances.
"We're in virgin territory here in regard to a member of Congress being gunned down," said Chad Ramsey, the federal legislation director of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, where he's worked for 10 lean years. "You react differently when you know somebody who's been shot. I'm not sure how people are going to react."
That's just the sort of talk that sets off Arizona gun-rights groups. "Usually the anti-freedom bigots have got something on the shelf just waiting for some blood to dance in," said Chad Heller, a co-founder of the Arizona Citizens Defense League, when asked about the federal legislation.
In Arizona, gun-rights groups don't have to worry about the "anti-freedom bigots" at all. Harper and Pearce are right; they began this year with the votes to expand gun rights, picking up right where they left off last year. They passed a "Constitutional Carry Act" that expanded the right to carry weapons in public—the right Arthur Olivas was enjoying today—and limited what local authorities can do to regulate firearms. They made Arizona the sixth state to pass a "Firearms Freedom Act," exempting any firearms made and used in the state from federal regulations.