State Watch

Trump’s win spurs new push on gun rights

President Trump’s election has encouraged gun rights advocates to mount a new legislative push in states across the country.

Legislators in more than a dozen states have introduced bills to allow residents to carry guns in the open, roll back licensing requirements for concealed weapons and limit the number of facilities where guns are prohibited. Measures in several states would allow those with licenses to carry firearms in schools, airports and churches.

Those backing more expansive gun rights largely embrace Trump’s claims — many of which are disputed by federal and local law enforcement statistics — that crime is on the rise and cities are plagued by a wave of what the president called in his inaugural address “American carnage.”

{mosads}“People, I think, are realizing that they are their first and best line of self defense against a growing population of people who have absolutely no regard for life and law,” Indiana state Rep. Jim Lucas (R) said. “People have just given up with the lawlessness we’ve seen in the past several years.”

Lucas is the chief sponsor of several measures that would expand gun rights in Indiana. One of his bills would end the requirement that anyone carrying a weapon obtain a license. Another would prevent state agencies, including universities, from banning firearms from their facilities. 

Similar bills are advancing in other states, too.

Measures to permit carrying a firearm without a license, which supporters call “constitutional carry,” have been introduced in six other states: Kansas, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Montana and New Hampshire.

Proposals to allow some people to carry guns in schools and universities have been introduced in 13 other states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

In Florida, where an armed man killed five people at a Fort Lauderdale airport in January, Republicans have introduced a bill to allow firearms to be carried in pre-security areas in airports and schools. In Colorado and North Dakota, legislators will consider whether to allow specially trained officials to carry firearms in schools.

At least two states are considering expanding so-called stand-your-ground laws, which allow residents to defend themselves if they are attacked. Utah will consider implementing such a measure this year. Florida legislators are weighing whether to shift the burden of proof in stand-your-ground cases from the defendant to the prosecutor, which would make such matters more difficult to prosecute.

Gun control backers will advance their own agenda in some more liberal states this year. Those supporters hope to pass measures in New Mexico and Maryland to require background checks on all gun sales, even those made at gun shows. Nineteen states already require background checks for guns sold at shows; voters approved ballot measures tightening gun restrictions in Nevada, California and Washington in 2016.

In Oregon, state House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson (D) will introduce a legislative package that includes measures to block the subjects of restraining orders from obtaining a gun and flag law enforcement officials whenever someone fails a gun-related background check.

“We have been consciously pursuing a state-by-state strategy to pass good gun laws and defeat the NRA’s dangerous guns-everywhere agenda,” said Kate Folmar, a spokeswoman for Everytown for Gun Safety, the group bankrolled by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Legislators in redder states, mostly Democrats, have introduced other measures meant to tighten restrictions on guns: A bill in Florida would ban high-capacity magazines and assault rifles. A Texas bill would prohibit gun sales to those who are on the FBI’s terrorism watch list. New Hampshire Democrats have introduced legislation to close the gun show loophole. 

All of those bills are almost certain to die quiet deaths in Republican-controlled chambers.

The future of the war over gun rights may lie in a third bill introduced by Lucas, the Indiana Republican. That bill would grant a tax credit to Hoosiers who complete gun safety courses or who buy security devices like a gun safe.

Lucas said he wants to encourage people to take gun safety courses, though “never in my lifetime” would he advocate a government mandate that they do.

“Money talks, and instead of paying people to [take gun safety classes], let them keep their own money and direct it towards firearm safety training courses,” Lucas said.

The push to advance gun rights comes as the number of guns sold in America reaches new heights. The FBI said in January its National Instant Criminal Background Check System — the database gun retailers go through before selling a firearm — processed more than 27 million requests in 2016, 4 million more than the previous record.

The increase in sales was likely driven by fear that former President Barack Obama would implement new restrictions on firearms on his way out of office or that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton would spend part of her first term pursuing gun control legislation.

During the 2016 presidential election, Trump incorrectly claimed that crime rates were on the rise, despite a three decade-long stretch of sharp and steadily declining numbers of both non-violent and violent crime. 

The number of violent crimes committed in the United States in 2015 was lower than the number of similar crimes committed in 1981, even though the nation’s population has grown by almost 100 million in the intervening years, according to FBI statistics released in September. The rate of violent crime dropped nearly in half between 1996 and 2015.

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