Tucson residents living in crime-ridden areas could soon receive free shotguns.
Operating on the premise an armed neighborhood is a safer neighborhood, a group led by former mayoral candidate Shaun McClusky is raising money to purchase shotguns and provide training for anyone who lives in a mid- to high-crime neighborhood and can pass a background check.
The project is part of a developing nationwide movement to see if more guns really do translate into less crime.
McClusky said he's bringing the program to Tucson because the City Council has failed to properly fund the Police Department, leaving many residents easy targets for criminals.
"We need to take back our city, and it needs to come back to the citizens and not the criminals," McClusky said. "Right now, the criminal element is winning."
Over the next couple of weeks, McClusky and others will begin spreading leaflets and posting fliers in Midvale Park, Pueblo Gardens and a yet-to-be-determined midtown neighborhood to induce residents to sign up for the program.
McClusky said the shotguns will be single-break-action guns that can hold only one shell. Pump-action shotguns have been considered, but that will depend on cost. For now, each gun will cost $205, which includes a box of ammunition. With the training and background checks included, McClusky estimates it will cost about $350 to $400 per person.
McClusky said his group won't be making the same tactical error as Mark Kelly did recently - buying weapons not for their own use. Instead, they will donate the money for individuals to fill out the background checks and purchase the weapons for themselves.
He's also not afraid of litigation.
"Saying guns are responsible for killing people is like saying spoons are responsible for making people fat," McClusky said. "If someone wants to bring me the publicity for free and sue me, bring it on."
So far, contributors have committed about $12,000 even though McClusky just started soliciting donations. He said he's not prepared to say how many shotguns will be provided.
"We've hit the ground running," McClusky said.
If everything goes as planned, McClusky expects to start handing them out within 60 days.
The news didn't sit well with some.
"When we have a problems we try to get the neighbors together and work on solutions. This is something far outside what we would normally do," said Midvale Neighborhood Association President Joe Miller. "This is pretty intense."
Miller said Midvale Neighborhood is a safe community that isn't riddled with crime and there isn't a need for such drastic measures.
Councilwoman Regina Romero echoed Miller's sentiments and said McClusky is "stereotyping" south-side residents.
She said Midvale is a "safe, beautiful neighborhood" and residents "don't need a gun to survive."
"McClusky is not only out of touch with Midvale, but he is reckless in promoting such a ridiculous idea," Romero said. "If he wants to hand out guns to people, why doesn't he hand them out around his neighborhood?"
Councilman Steve Kozachik said he doesn't understand the logic behind the move.
"To suggest that giving away … loaded shotguns in high-crime areas will make anybody safer is pure idiocy," Kozachik said. "This is coming from a purported leader in the local Republican Party, the same group who last year auctioned off a Glock and a rifle as fundraisers. Now they're giving them away in our community? They're totally out of touch with the values of this city."
Kozachik said more guns will only compound violence in already troubled neighborhoods, and requiring background checks will have little effect on keeping the guns out of the wrong hands.
"Saying that they'll do background checks ignores the well-known fact that the NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) records are so poorly maintained that they might as well join the gun sellers who don't do any background checks at gun shows," he said.
TPD spokeswoman Sgt. Maria Hawke said the department has too few details about the program to comment on it.
Tucson would be the second city to implement such a program.
McClusky's effort is part of a larger project based in Houston.
The Armed Citizens Project was created recently by a master's student at the University of Houston as a way to measure whether more guns result in less crime. The plan is to have diverse cities across the nation implement the program in specific neighborhoods and then track those neighborhoods to see if crime is reduced.
When McClusky learned of the project, he thought it was an "absolutely wonderful" idea and would be perfect for Tucson.
But others have doubts.
Travis Pratt, professor of criminology and criminal justice at Arizona State University, said so far, no studies have shown guns decrease crime. In fact, he said, it's just the opposite.
"There is no credible evidence at all that providing a high-crime area with the instruments to facilitate more crime is going to have any net social benefits," Pratt said.
Isolated incidents where a gun prevents a crime would occur, he said, but they would be offset by having more guns in circulation.
However, he said it's unlikely the program would produce a spike in gun violence, since the guns involved would be shotguns that have limited appeal to criminals, Pratt said, it's unlikely there would be a sharp spike in gun violence as well.
"There isn't the same potential for gun violence as if you were handing out 9 millimeters," he said.
"At best it's a symbolic act that's unlikely produce any crime reducing benefits," Pratt said.
"These kind of rhetorical devices get thrown a lot and they're politically popular here in Arizona," he said, but they are little more than "a dangerous political stunt."
Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @DarrenDaRonco.