Gun legislation dominates state capitals after Florida shooting

Gun legislation dominates state capitals after Florida shooting
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State legislatures across the country are considering new restrictions or expansions of gun rights in the aftermath of the mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school in February, setting a frenetic pace in a debate that appears stymied in status quo in Washington.

Even in states overwhelmingly controlled by one party or the other, debates over gun control or gun rights routinely rank among the most contentious and ponderous of the legislative session.

But in the weeks after the shooting that left 17 students and faculty members dead, states from Alaska to Florida have virtually raced to complete work on measures that address gun violence — many in vastly different ways, ranging from “red flag” laws to legislation to arm educators. 

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In some cases, lawmakers are bumping up against the legislative calendar. Two Florida legislative committees approved a package of reform measures endorsed by Gov. Rick Scott (R), who laid out a series of proposals that would bolster school safety and raise the minimum age at which one could purchase a rifle in the wake of the Parkland shooting. The legislative session in Florida ends next Friday.

The Florida committees also backed a $67 million pilot program to arm school staff and teachers, over the objections of parents and students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the site of the Feb. 14 shooting.

In New Jersey, the Assembly Judiciary Committee heard five hours of testimony on a host of measures backed by gun control advocates. Legislators advanced measures that would restrict the size of magazines, require background checks even for private gun sales and allow family members to obtain restraining orders that would block anyone who could pose a danger to themselves or others — a so-called red flag bill that might have stopped the shooter in Florida.

The hearings attracted NRA members and volunteers for Moms Demand Action, the pro-gun safety group. Legislative staff had to set up an overflow room when the committee room became too crowded, according to NJ Advance Media.

The Illinois state House on Wednesday passed bills to ban bump stocks — the devices that allow semi-automatic rifles to be fired at a faster rate — create a three-day waiting period on purchases of assault rifles, and ban the sale of assault weapons to anyone under 21 years of age.

The House also passed a bill to require gun dealers to obtain licenses, a measure that had already passed the state Senate. It now goes to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s (R) desk, though Rauner has not said whether he will sign or veto it.

An Oklahoma state House committee on Wednesday advanced three bills that would significantly curtail restrictions on gun rights. The measures would end state licensing and training requirements for handgun owners.

Another measure would allow school districts to arm faculty and support staff more easily. State Rep. Jeff Coody (R), who sponsored all three bills, introduced the school safety measure after the Parkland shooting.

In Alaska, the state House heard testimony on a red flag bill. The measure faces an uncertain future in the state Senate, where Republicans hold a majority.

State Democratic senators in New York on Wednesday tried to force votes on a handful of gun control measures, including a measure creating extreme risk protection orders like New Jersey’s red flag bill, another bill to ban bump stocks and a third proposal to bolster background checks.

But the Republican majority in the state Senate blocked those proposals from being attached as amendments to an unrelated bill.

Other debates in state capitals are just beginning. Hundreds of pro- and anti-gun protesters showed up at the state Capitol in Augusta, Maine, on Thursday, shouting over each other as they urged a split legislature to take up their measures. Maine’s legislative council approved a red flag bill this week, putting the bill on the House and Senate agenda in the near future.

In California, legislators introduced a dozen new gun control measures this week, including proposals to raise the legal age for buying shotguns and rifles to 21.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) said Thursday that he would ask lawmakers to create new gun violence protection orders to prevent those who might be a danger from obtaining or possessing firearms. He said he would propose banning bump stocks and the sale of armor-piercing ammunition.

Kasich also wants better coordination between courts and Ohio’s criminal background system to block felons from obtaining guns or concealed weapons permits.

“There was very strong opinion in favor of doing something here,” Kasich told reporters Thursday. “I’m very hopeful that this is a package that is reasonable, that will improve gun safety. It doesn’t represent all the hopes and ideas of everybody, but that’s not what it’s all about.”

Also on Thursday, hundreds of gun rights and gun control advocates rallied in St. Paul as the Minnesota state House took up measures to expand background checks to private sales and to create a red flag warning system for those who pose a danger. The background check measure died when legislators voted to table it.