Posted on May 2, 2014
In April of this year, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed HB 60, a bill which expands the ability to carry firearms in public spaces such as bars and airports. The media was quick to report that this bill is evidence of a backlash against the many significant gun violence prevention laws enacted in the states last year, despite the media’s predominant narrative from last year that, after Newtown, more states weakened gun laws and the gun lobby “won”. The truth is that the recent media narratives are far from accurate.
Since Newtown, about the same number of laws (64) have strengthened state gun regulations as those that have weakened them (70), not including 38 newly-enacted gun laws that have a minimal impact on gun violence. However, a strict comparison of these numbers without deeper insight into the substance of the laws and where they were enacted is only half the story. Of the states that enacted laws to strengthen gun regulation, 8 states made very significant and, in some cases, sweeping changes to the way it regulates firearms. Alternatively, only 4 states enacted laws that have significantly weakened gun regulation.
Despite popular belief, in the last sixteen months since Newtown, the media has incorrectly portrayed the complicated and nuanced activity in fifty different state legislative bodies. The new laws have been tallied, and often, have been inappropriately equalized. Small bills which keep concealed weapons permit holders’ information private have been categorized as having equal weight to sweeping new laws that require background checks and ban assault weapons. The stories proclaiming the Georgia bill to be a pro-gun backlash make little of the fact that it was the NRA’s top priority in Georgia for two years and, after failing last year, barely scraped by this year and only in a watered-down version. The backlash stories also fail to mention the groundswell of activism that rose in opposition to the bill and succeeded in forcing the gun lobby to strip provision after provision from the measure.
The Law Center has tracked state firearms laws in all fifty states since 2009. Above is a map outlining the breadth of laws that have passed since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. Our analysis of legislative trends is based on watching and analyzing all gun legislation as it moves through state houses. The data shows us that the public’s mobilization after Newtown resulted in real and sustained change in legislative outcomes, as our team tracks new laws to strengthen gun policy come to unexpected states like South Carolina and Florida while an enormous number of bills to weaken state gun laws get watered down and end without progress.
In addition, a Mother Jones analysis comparing the population of states where gun laws were strengthened to states where they were weakened concluded that more than half of the country lives in states with stronger gun laws since Newtown.
More important than the numbers, or even the context surrounding the numbers, are the real people who have dedicated their lives to changing our nation’s gun laws since Newtown. New organizations such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Americans for Responsible Solutions, Sandy Hook Promise, and Texas Gun Sense and many, many more have formed in just the last sixteen months. Real change happens when real people take action. The story after Newtown is that in every state people are making their voices heard, fighting to strengthen firearms laws, and opposing the gun lobby’s profit-driven efforts. This part of the story is only just beginning and real change will be measured in the lives that are saved.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, there is no doubt that public support for sensible gun laws has soared. Many legislators are following the lead of the people and fighting for strong new policies to fill the gaps in gun regulation left by Congress.
2014 Policy Trends in Legislation to Strengthen Firearms Laws
This year, the policies designed to strengthen state gun laws that are making progress in the state legislatures revolve mostly around domestic violence and mental health prohibitions. Indiana, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming have already enacted new laws to keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers. Twelve additional states are currently considering bills on this crucial topic. The map below provides more information about the bills and illustrates where they have been enacted and where they are pending.
Several states are also considering bills to report mental health records to the FBI for background checks and/or to strengthen restrictions on firearms possession by the dangerously mentally ill. South Dakota has already enacted one such bill. Similar bills are also sitting on the Governor’s desk in Oklahoma and Arizona. The map below provides more detail.
These strong new policies—especially legislation to disarm dangerous domestic violence offenders—have the potential to drastically reduce the chance of injury and death at the hand of a firearm and could save an incredible number of lives.
2014 Policy Trends in Legislation to Weaken Firearms Laws
The gun lobby’s primary focus in 2014 continues to be expanding the areas in which individuals may carry firearms, particularly in bars and on college and university campuses. Bills have been enacted in these areas in Idaho, South Carolina, and Georgia (mentioned above). The map below provides more detail on this trend.
These new laws continue to threaten public safety. Fortunately, many states have continued to build on the successes of 2013 and are fighting to keep more people safe from the constant—and preventable—threat of gun violence.
Minimal Impact Legislation
This year, the Law Center has labeled some laws as “minimal impact.” Included in this category are laws that have a neutral or minimal impact on gun violence prevention. For example, laws declaring that federal firearms laws do not apply to guns manufactured and kept in the state are included in this category because they are unconstitutional and unenforceable. Other laws, such as laws that make concealed carry permit records confidential, are included because they would not significantly impact gun violence prevention if enacted.
These trends are not the full story. There were over 1500 bills introduced in the 2013 legislative session, over 100 of which were enacted into law. For more information on this unprecedented activity, click on the map below to find out about the laws that were enacted in each state last year.
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