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Michael R. Blood, Associated Press, Published January 12 2011

Arizona shooting: How did Loughner get a gun?

TUCSON, Ariz. – Jared Loughner had trouble with the law, was rejected by the Army after flunking a drug test and was considered so mentally unstable that he was banned from his college campus, where officials considered him a threat to other students and faculty.

But the 22-year-old had no trouble buying the Glock semiautomatic pistol that authorities say he used in the Tucson rampage Saturday that left six dead and 14 injured, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Loughner’s personal history did not disqualify him under federal rules, and Arizona doesn’t regulate gun sales. His criminal charges were ultimately dismissed, the Army information was private, and Pima Community College isn’t saying whether it shared its concerns about Loughner with anyone besides his parents.

Loughner cleared a federal background check and bought the pistol at a big-box sports store near his home on Nov. 30 – two months after he was suspended by the college. He customized the weapon with an extended ammunition clip that would have been illegal six years earlier.

Gun-control advocates say the shooting shows that Arizona, home of some of the nation’s most permissive gun laws, must review its laws to make sure firearms are not falling into the wrong hands. Gun-rights proponents disagree and say more regulation would not have stopped the tragedy.

Arizona eased gun restrictions last year when it passed a law allowing residents 21 and older to conceal and carry a weapon without a permit, which allowed Loughner to furtively – and legally – carry his pistol to the mall where he is accused of opening fire.

No permits or licenses are required at the state level. Legal gun owners can bring concealed weapons into Arizona bars and restaurants, and state legislators are considering allowing students and teachers to have weapons in schools.

After the shooting, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik berated Republican lawmakers who have sought to further ease state gun laws.

“I think we’re the Tombstone of the United States of America,” the Democrat said, referring to the Wild West town populated by gunslingers. “I have never been a proponent of letting everybody in this state carry weapons under any circumstances that they want, and that’s almost where we are.”

Charles Heller, co-founder and secretary of an Arizona group that promotes gun rights, said more regulation is not a solution.

“Why don’t we ban murder? ... Murders are illegal and people do it anyway,” he said. “There is no way to weed people out.”

Outside Sportsman’s Warehouse, the cavernous store where Loughner purchased his Glock, gun owner Jason Moats said that “the bad guys can get the guns either way.” He suggested that the shootings could have been less tragic had there been one more weapon out there, rather than one less.

If someone at the mall was armed and had shot Loughner, ending the attack, “the guy would be a hero,” said Moats, a 25-year-old route manager for a waste hauling company.

Eyewitnesses say Loughner was subdued after he tried to insert a second magazine into his pistol.

Karen Seaman, chief marketing officer for Sportsman’s Warehouse, said Loughner passed a federal background check required to buy a gun.

Background checks are designed in part to weed out prospective gun buyers who have felony criminal records, have a history of domestic violence or are in the country illegally. None of that applied to Loughner, although the background check form asks about drug use and friends say he frequently used marijuana in high school.

In October 2007, Loughner was cited in Pima County for possession of drug paraphernalia, which was dismissed after he completed a diversion program, according to online records.

Loughner was arrested in October 2008 on a vandalism charge near Tucson after admitting that he vandalized a road sign with a magic marker, scrawling the letters “C” and ”X” in what he said was a reference to Christianity. The police report said Loughner admitted other acts of vandalism in the area. The case was ultimately dismissed after he completed a diversion program.

A military official in Washington said the Army rejected Loughner in 2008 because he failed a drug test. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because privacy laws prevent the military from disclosing such information about an individual’s application.