Issue To Watch: Gun Regulation

While all eyes are on gun restrictions, at least six states have proposed easing those restrictions, and two states have already backed off gun legislation.

by / January 23, 2013
Photo: Flickr CC/Mike Saechang Flickr CC/Mike Saechang

After years of loosening gun restrictions, at least 11 state legislatures will consider tightening gun regulations this year after numerous mass shootings in 2012, including in Aurora, Colorado; Oak Creek, Wisconsin; Portland, Oregon; and Newtown, Connecticut. New York already passed sweeping gun restrictions last week. But while all eyes are on gun restrictions, at least six states have proposed easing those restrictions, and two states (Illinois and Wisconsin) have already backed off gun legislation at the urging of National Rifle Association (NRA) members.

There is a rough political line in the gun discussions: states with relatively strict gun laws, such as New York, Connecticut, California and Maryland, are calling for more gun regulation, and states with more open gun policies (Arizona, Florida and Oklahoma) are calling for additional school safety measures, including armed officers in schools.

States are also watching out for possible federal action on gun regulations pushed by President Obama. Last Wednesday, he signed 23 executive orders, including funding for more school resource officers, improvements in background checks, clarifying what mental health services are available under the Affordable Care Act and directing federal research on the causes and prevention of gun violence.

Despite the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in a Tucson parking lot two years ago and her personal lobbying effort to curb the influence of the NRA, Arizona state lawmakers are unlikely to tighten the state’s gun laws this year. State legislators introduced a bill barring enforcement of any new federal gun control laws, and gun sales in the state have surged after the December shootings in Connecticut. Governor Jan Brewer indicated interest in proposals for more school security in her state of the state address.

FORECAST: School security debates, no gun control, strong lobbying by NRA members


After James Holmes opened fire in a suburban Denver movie theater this summer, Governor John Hickenlooper was skeptical of whether stricter gun laws might have prevented the tragedy. But in his state of the state address January 10, Hickenlooper proposed mandatory background checks for all gun purchases and laid out his plans to expand state mental health services. No major gun legislation passed in the state after the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, but advocates are hopeful that this time will be different.

FORECAST: A joint gun restriction and mental health legislative package, opposition from sportsmen, hands-on approach from governor

Following the shooting deaths of 26 children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December, Governor Dannel Malloy convened a task force to draft recommendations for the General Assembly to review this legislative session. He emphasized providing more state mental health options, enhancing school safety and placing more restrictions on assault weapons. Legislators are also discussing proposals for bullet taxes.

FORECAST: School security debates, assault weapons ban, limited opposition to new gun restrictions

Delaware and Maryland
Delaware Governor Jack Markell, Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn and Attorney General Beau Biden (son of Vice President Joe Biden) have thrown their collective support behind proposals to ban the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and to require background checks for all gun purchases. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley made similar proposals last week. These proposals mirror the Obama administration’s goals and are nationally significant since Markell is the chair of the National Governors Association and Governor O’Malley is the immediate past chairman of the Democratic Governors Association and a top Obama supporter.

FORECAST: Assault weapons and high-capacity magazine ban, background checks on private sales, similarity to Obama proposals

New Mexico
After President Obama announced his plans to pursue an assault weapons ban and universal background checks for gun buyers, state lawmakers introduced a bill to bar enforcement of any new gun laws. But that approach could be softening, after a shooting in Albuquerque last weekend (January 20) where a teen shot and killed his parents and three siblings using his father’s AR-15 military-style assault rifle and .22-caliber rifle. Many lawmakers knew the boy’s father and one of the victims, Greg Griego, who is the brother of a former state senator. Governor Susana Martinez has said she supports legislation restricting gun access for people with mental illnesses.

FORECAST: Heated debate over assault weapons, possible mental health legislation

Wyoming, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Texas
In anticipation of new federal gun restrictions, lawmakers in Arkansas, Missouri, Texas and Wyoming have proposed bills that would make enforcing tougher federal gun regulations a state crime. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant asked the legislature to enact a law that would make “any unconstitutional order by the President illegal to enforce in Mississippi by state or local law enforcement.” Legally speaking, states cannot override federal law, and criminalizing enforcement of a federal law would be all but impossible to implement. Politically, however, the proposals are meant to send a message to Washington that states are opposed to any new gun control measures.

FORECAST: Intense opposition to any new national gun restrictions, heavy lobbying by NRA members

Reprinted from Stateline, a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Center on the States that provides daily reporting and analysis on trends in state policy.

Maggie Clark, Stateline staff writer staff writer