Nine months after the horrific mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., advocates of stricter gun-control measures have had little luck in state legislatures across the country. In fact, if the gun debate is reignited after another massacre claimed 12 victims Monday at the Navy Yard in Washington, it will take place in a country with fewer restrictions on firearms than were in place a year ago.
Gun-control advocates had hoped to pass new legislation in states where Democrats control the legislature and governor’s office. But only a handful of blue states – California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland and New York – advanced substantive laws.
In New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that would ban the sale of assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition clips and close the “gun show” loophole. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, signed a bill in May to require people to provide fingerprints and take training courses to obtain a license to buy a gun. This month, California passed legislation limiting sales of semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines and expanding the list of crimes that would prevent someone from owning a gun for 10 years. Connecticut added 100 weapons to its list of banned firearms and restricted high-capacity magazines.
In Delaware and Illinois, new rules requiring background checks for private gun sales went into effect this year. And a handful of Republican-led states passed laws this year to expand bans on gun possession by the mentally ill or by those convicted of drug-related crimes.
“What every successful effort has in common is the voice of the American public is heard, and elected officials are acting with accountability to the people that put them in office,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
But gun-rights advocates have pushed new laws in about half the states to relax restrictions on concealed-carry laws. Legislators in Kansas and Missouri passed laws that would nullify federal gun legislation, although Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed his state’s version. And in Illinois, the only state that didn’t allow residents to carry concealed weapons, legislators overrode Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s veto of a new concealed-carry law.
A new Alaska law prohibits state and municipal agencies from implementing laws that would infringe on the Second Amendment and exempts some firearms from federal regulation. Several Arkansas laws expanded concealed-carry rules for liquor stores and churches (North Dakota concealed-carry permit holders may now also possess a gun in church). In Missouri, Nixon signed a bill to allow state employees to keep firearms in their vehicles on state property. Mississippi enacted a law that would extend concealed-carry permits to people ages 18 to 21.
And several states – including Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia – passed laws that loosen restrictions on guns carried by school safety officials, steps similar to those advocated by National Rifle Association officials after the shooting in Newtown.
On the local level, more than three dozen county and city governments have revised bans on guns in certain public places at the behest of the Second Amendment Foundation, a gun-rights organization based in Washington state.
This year, the city of Oak Harbor, Wash., overturned a ban on guns in city parks. Carroll County, Md., overturned a ban on carrying a firearm at county landfills. Other jurisdictions have backed off gun bans in public places that don’t conform to pre-existing state rules.
“In the last several years, we’ve had a lot of state legislatures take a position that we think is pretty bright, that firearms legislation belongs in the hands of state legislatures so that you have uniform firearms laws from one end of the state to the other,” said Dave Workman, a senior editor of TheGunMag.com and communications director at the Second Amendment Foundation.
“I think there have been more wins for firearms rights than for the gun-control crowd,” Workman said.
Following the massacre in Newtown, President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats used national outrage to push a measure to tighten background checks at gun shows and in private sales.
But the measure couldn’t overcome a filibuster in the Senate, even with overwhelming public support, and even if it had, Republican control of the House would have stymied any gun-control bill that passed without the backing of the NRA.
In lieu of legislative action, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday that the administration has implemented executive actions “that were part of the president’s plan to take action to reduce gun violence.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a leading proponent of the background check legislation, said Monday’s shooting should lead to a renewed debate.
“Congress must stop shirking its responsibility and resume a thoughtful debate on gun violence in this country. We must do more to stop this endless loss of life,” she said in a statement Monday.
But gun-rights advocates are promising consequences at the ballot box if gun-control measures make it through state legislatures. This month, two Colorado state senators who had voted for new gun-control measures lost recall elections funded in part by the NRA.
If gun-control advocates could see any silver lining in their losses in Colorado, it’s that a new set of allies with deep pockets is beginning to engage. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a political independent, and Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad both sent six-figure checks to help the two Democratic candidates.
“Clearly, there are significant new resources that are coming to this issue,” said Gross, of the Brady Campaign. He cited Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Bloomberg’s group, and Americans for Responsible Solutions, a gun-control organization spearheaded by shooting victim and former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. “We’re all working towards the main goals and creating a synergy among our organizations, and that does start to shift the balance around TV political advertisements, which the NRA previously had cornered the market on.”