The States Have Spoken on Guns, and It Doesn't Look That Good for Gun Control

The Atlantic

While the Senate slowly makes its way to a vote on new gun regulations, the states aren't waiting. High-profile restrictions packages make headlines, but most new state gun laws have instead focused on loosening controls. Activism, partisanship, and time are a powerful combination.

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As expected, Connecticut's legislature approved one of the strongest set of new restrictions in the country early this morning. The Huffington Post's Christina Wilkie, who stayed up late to report on the vote, outlines the package's components.

The Connecticut legislation bans the sale of gun magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds and requires background checks for private gun sales, including those at gun shows. It also expands the state's current assault weapons ban to include more than 100 newly prohibited models of guns. …

Additionally, the Connecticut bill allocates $15 million for expanded school safety and mental health programs, and includes new eligibility requirements for ammunition sales, as well as a provision to create the nation's first registry of dangerous offenders, which will be accessible only to law enforcement officers.

Earlier this week, we noted that Connecticut's law was an outlier. A report in today's Wall Street Journal indicates just how far outside the norm the legislation actually is.

State lawmakers on both sides of the gun debate have each introduced more than 500 gun-related bills this year. But gun-control legislation has reached governors' desks in six states, while legislation expanding gun rights has made it that far in 15, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The center's tallies don't include legislation addressing penalties for gun crimes or exceptions in gun laws for law enforcement, among other areas.

The Journal report included two maps showing where states have passed laws on the topic. We've combined them into one map and removed legislation which has not yet been signed into law. (We've included Connecticut, however, because that state's governor has indicated he will sign the bill as soon as possible.) States in blue have passed new restrictions; those in red have loosened laws; those in purple have done both, to some extent.

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Data from The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence via the Wall Street Journal.

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The Journal is clear about why the legislation has passed or failed.

Of the 15 legislatures that have passed pro-gun-rights bills on to the governor, 13 are controlled by Republicans.

Democrat-controlled legislatures have failed to pass gun limits in some states, like Washington and New Mexico, and have had to weaken gun-control bills in others, including Minnesota. The Washington bill, to require universal background checks, failed last month despite Democrats' 55-to-43 advantage in the House and residents' 79% approval for the bill, according to a state poll.

The map below shows the representation of state legislatures across the country. (Lighter colors indicate a split in party dominance between houses, or one evenly-split body.) There is a clear correlation between that representation and the passage of new laws, as the Journal suggests.

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There are two other advantages that opponents of new gun restrictions enjoy: a much more mobilized base of activists, and time. This morning The New York Times profiled Gun Owners of America, an organization that works to pull the NRA into the sliver of space to its right, advocating for even looser laws than its much-larger competitor. The strategy of gun control opponents is simple: embrace loosening of regulations and impede new restrictions. That pays off at a state level with lots of quick laws in friendly bodies. It pays off nationally with a continuous winnowing down of new legislative proposals before a vote is taken.

If the states are the laboratories of democracy, as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, the results of the experiment aren't entirely in. But gun control advocates can't be happy with how the tests are going.

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