State Gun Laws More Polarized Than Ever

Committees of Jurisdiction: Law, Justice, and Ethics; Youth
Related Resolutions: LJE-13-06; LJE-08-10; LJE-07-07; LJE-98-36

Gun ShowPhoto Credit: www.npr.org Since the founding of the Republic, gun rights have been a major issue for African Americans, who still today seek the right balance of public safety, self-defense, and Second Amendment protections. This issue has gained even more attention with recent large-scale shootings across the country and the gun violence occurring in Black, impoverished communities. According to the American Journal of Medicine, homicide is the leading cause of death for young Black men in the United States, with 91% of those deaths due to firearms. However, according to the Pew Research Center for the People & Press, over 20% of Black households still report owning a gun.

Lawmakers on the federal level have proposed plans to address gun violence, but in the face of strong interest group influence and partisanship, measures have failed to pass. In the absence of federal action, states have forged ahead with their own measures, further polarizing an existing, incongruent system of state and national gun laws.



State Action

States have taken it upon themselves to enact new gun laws by strengthening the statutes already in place. As a result, post-Sandy Hook gun legislation has driven polarization into two camps: states with highly restrictive gun regulations and states with liberal rights for gun ownership and use.[MSOffice1] 
According to The New York Times, states considered 1,500 gun laws in 2013 and enacted 109 of them. Of interest are the following:

  • Laws to expand areas where one is permitted to carry firearms, such as schools, government buildings, and/or churches. A total of 17 states enacted 30 such laws, including Alabama, Arkansas, and Tennessee.
  • Laws to restrict gun possession, for example banning assault weapons and extended ammunition magazines. Seven states enacted 14 of these laws, such as California, Colorado, Maryland, and New York.
  • Laws to expand background checks for individuals with certain mental illnesses looking to purchase a firearm. Sixteen laws were enacted in 15 states, including Connecticut, Florida, Rhode Island, and Texas.

An overview of gun laws passed by states across the country in 2013 is below.  The information indicates that despite the universal need to combat gun violence cohesively, differences remain. States continue to move farther and farther away from any chance of national consensus.

NBCSL Table: 2013 Enacted State Legislation


Gun Permitting Guns in Schools Criminal Background Checks Mental Health Background Checks Nullifying Federal Laws/Potential Federal Laws Gun Access Lost or Stolen Firearms
Strengthened Gun Restrictions in 2013 Colorado

None

California Colorado Connecticut Delaware Hawaii
Illinois Louisiana
Maryland
Minnesota
Missouri
Nevada
New York
North Dakota
Alabama
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Florida
Maryland
Minnesota
Mississippi
New Jersey
New York
North Carolina
Rhode Island
South Carolina
Tennessee
Texas
Washington
None

California
Colorado
Connecticut
New Jersey
Utah
Washington
Delaware
Illinois
Maryland
New Jersey
New York
Rhode Island
Loosened Gun Restrictions in 2013 Alabama
Arizona
Arkansas
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Michigan Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nevada
New Jersey Oklahoma
South Dakota Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Virginia
West Virginia
Alabama Arkansas Indiana Kansas
North Carolina Oklahoma
South Dakota Tennessee
Indiana
West Virginia
Utah Alabama
Alaska
Kansas
Kentucky
Missouri
Tennessee
Texas
None


Legislation Considered in 2014
During 2014 legislative sessions, state lawmakers have continued to pursue gun reform, both expanding gun rights and tightening restrictions. According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the type of legislation used to restrict gun rights include 1) prohibiting domestic abusers from keeping guns, 2) mandating gun locks and safe storage, and 3) regulating homemade 3-D printer guns.  An example of gun rights expansion legislation is allowing possession of a firearm on school property, in public parking areas, and in bars. Some gun rights advocates are also supporting legislation to prohibit schools or doctors from counseling about the risks of guns in the home.

Our nation’s gun laws must address current issues while adequately promoting safety, protection, and accountability. But, it is clear that the current framework of incompatible gun laws is unsustainable. It is critical for state lawmakers to work across state lines and with their federal counterparts to make sure that gun laws are effective, cohesive, and sensible.

Resources
  • Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence is an organization thatworks to pass, enforce, and protect sensible laws and public policy that address gun violence at the federal and state levels. 
  • Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) is a group dedicated to promoting a better understanding about our Constitutional heritage to privately own and possess firearms. SAF holds educational and legal action programs designed to better inform the public about the gun control debate.
  • Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence  is an organization that focuses on providing comprehensive legal expertise in support of gun violence prevention and the promotion of smart gun laws that save lives.
  • Students for Concealed Carry (SCC) is student-run. It is a national, non-partisan organization which advocates for legal concealed carry on college campuses in the United States as an effective means of self-defense.
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