Gun control advocates see opportunities in states
Advocates of stricter restrictions on gun ownership believe they can notch new wins in state legislatures across the country this year, after Republicans in some states signaled they would be willing to break with the National Rifle Association (NRA) to support some new rules.
Advocates pointed to Massachusetts and New Jersey, the first two states to ban so-called bump stocks, the rifle modifications used by a gunman to murder dozens at a concert in Las Vegas last year. Both bills were passed by Democratic legislatures and signed by Republican governors.
Bump-stock ban bills have been introduced in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Indiana and Washington.
“States are really taking the lead on banning these weapons in the face of congressional inaction,” said Robin Lloyd, director of government affairs at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “There is a growing acknowledgement and recognition that we have a gun safety problem in this country, and there are common-sense solutions.”
Legislators in several states have also advanced measures that would prohibit those who pose a risk to themselves or others from possessing a firearm.
One version of those prohibitions would allow family members or law enforcement to petition for extreme risk protection orders, temporarily barring someone who poses a threat. Those measures have passed in California, Washington and Oregon.
Massachusetts lawmakers have heard testimony on an extreme risk protection order bill, and New York legislators rolled out their version on Wednesday. New Jersey and Delaware are also likely to take action on their versions this year.
Another version of the prohibitions would ban those convicted of domestic abuse from possessing firearms. Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia have passed laws keeping guns away from domestic abusers.
Gun rights advocates say they intend to push legislation across the country that would end requirements for permits to carry firearms in public. The measures, dubbed constitutional carry by supporters, have passed in 13 states so far, mostly conservative states with long histories of firearm ownership.
This year, similar bills are likely to come up in Alabama, Virginia, Indiana and Wisconsin. The Alabama measure is likely to advance to the floor of the state legislature. Indiana Republicans fell short of passing a constitutional carry measure in 2017, and it is unclear whether this year’s version will be any different.
Constitutional carry is unlikely to move in the other two states. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has signaled he would veto such a measure, and Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) said the version in his state is unlikely to earn enough support to advance.
“We will continue our push to expand the right of self defense,” said Jennifer Baker, an NRA spokeswoman.
Even with bipartisan consensus in some states, federal action is almost impossible in the current political climate, said Aaron Kivisto, a clinical psychologist who has studied gun laws at the University of Indiana.
“The possibility of evidence-based firearm laws has become so politically toxic that there’s essentially zero action on firearm legislation likely to reduce rates of gun deaths in a meaningful way,” Kivisto said.
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