April 15th, 2008 07:48 AM
At State Level, More Attempts to Limit Guns
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
State lawmakers across the country are ramping up efforts to pass new restrictions on guns, following nearly a decade in which state legislative efforts have been dominated by gun advocates.
Much of the proposed legislation — some 38 states are considering gun-related bills — focuses on cutting off gun access to convicted criminals and the mentally ill and on improving methods to trace guns used in crimes.
Underlying many of the proposals is an effort to redefine the gun debate as a law enforcement issue, rather than one that focuses on broad-based gun ownership, to sidestep prickly Second Amendment concerns.
“The key thing is that we want to protect Second Amendment rights,” said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, a Republican who has supported several bills that focus on guns used in crimes but not bills that would curtail ownership rights. “Democrats and Republicans can work together on this.”
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a prominent antigun group, has identified 52 bills it considers a priority for passage in 22 states, compared with 30 such bills two years ago.
“For years we were chasing the N.R.A.’s tail,” Brian Malte, the group’s state legislation and politics director, said of the National Rifle Association. “But now we feel they are chasing our priorities.”
Still, the new efforts come as organizations like the N.R.A., the country’s biggest gun advocacy group, continue to wield tremendous influence in state capitals and are pushing strongly for laws of their own.
Several legislatures are contemplating that would increase access to guns, including proposals to allow guns on college campuses or in the parking lots of workplaces.
The N.R.A. is tracking 208 pieces of gun-related legislation in 38 states, both proposed restrictions it opposes and other bills it supports, the highest number since the gun group began monitoring state laws in 2001.
Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the N.R.A., said, “There has been a brick-by-brick restoration of the Second Amendment” over the past 10 years or so at the state level, and he added that his organization continued to build upon it. “It is one of the most uncovered, fundamental sea changes in American politics,” Mr. LaPierre said.
The catalysts for the latest round of legislation include a spate of high-profile gun crimes — at shopping malls, schools and universities and the streets of several large cities — and a new federal law that gives financial rewards to states that better share information about mentally ill gun buyers.
The spike in lawmaking activity also comes against the background of a case before the Supreme Court that challenges the constitutionality of a ban on the private possession of handguns in the District of Columbia. Legal and gun experts said a ruling against the ban was likely to stymie additional efforts to limit rights on gun ownership — and could even embolden advocates of fewer restrictions — but might leave undeterred the pursuit of laws focused on illegal guns.
Lawmakers also credit the relatively new Mayors Against Illegal Guns, championed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, which has over 300 members across party lines, and its counterpart among state legislators, which has worked assertively to remove guns from the hands of criminals.
Seven states are considering bills that would require microscopic imprints on ammunition — following a pioneering bill that became law in California last year — that would help forensic experts identify the provenance of guns used in crimes.
Nearly a dozen states are considering forcing gun owners to report their weapons stolen or lost. New Jersey has already enacted such a law, and others are mulling criminal background checks on ammunition buyers, and efforts to keep people with a criminal record getting others to do their gun buying for them.
Earlier this year, President Bush signed into law a measure that authorized the distribution of federal money to states to maintain and update the criminal history and mental health records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. As such, many legislatures are trying to close loopholes that have allowed those with a history of mental illness to obtain guns.
More than a dozen states have signed or are debating bills that would compel states to upload mental health records to the National Instant Check System. West Virginia’s governor recently signed into a law a measure requiring his state to upload disqualifying records to the system.
Bills that focus on keeping guns out of the hands of those found mentally impaired or criminals “have more of a bipartisan support,” said Dan Brady, a Republican state lawmaker in Illinois, where nearly a dozen gun bills have hit the Statehouse this year. Mr. Brady said he had voted for such a bill.
“When you have pieces of legislation that start to erode the law-abiding citizens’ right to own firearms, you begin to have the debate about bounds,” Mr. Brady said.
Debates about the proposed gun laws are taking place in many states not between party members, but rather between residents in rural areas and those in crime-ridden cities. For some states, momentum on any bill that regulates guns is considered unusual.
For instance, last week in Pennsylvania lawmakers debated a bill that would have compelled gun owners to immediately report a lost or stolen gun to law enforcement officials. The bill was defeated, but it was the first time that the state, whose constitution articulates support for individual gun ownership well beyond the federal doctrine, had taken up a significant gun regulation bill in roughly 15 years.
“There are many people who believed that we would never discuss hand gun legislation in this building, let alone have a vote,” said Johnna A. Pro, the spokeswoman for Dwight Evans, a Democrat in the Pennsylvania Statehouse, who was behind the bill. The bill came to the floor only after the state’s legislative black caucus pulled a parliamentary measure impeding budget votes, and became one of the outgrowths of a resulting special session on crime.
“This bill was a defining moment,” said Kate Harper, a Republican lawmaker from the suburbs of Philadelphia who voted for the bill even though many of her colleagues were unhappy with her, she said.
“These are difficult votes for me because it hurts me with my caucus, and it also hurts with really strong Republican voters who don’t want government interference,” Ms. Harper said. “On the other hand, I’ve got soccer moms and people who have never fired a gun and are afraid of them.”
Many states are also contemplating legislation that would increase gun ownership rights. There are roughly three dozens states that have considered over the last two sessions bills that would allow employees to bring guns to the workplace, leaving them in the cars.
The Florida Legislature recently passed a measure preventing businesses from prohibiting customers or employees who hold concealed-weapons permits to keep their guns in their cars on their property. The state’s governor has indicated, in the face of enormous pressure on both sides, that he intends to sign it.
The violence on college campuses also prompted a host of legislative proposals for allowing students or faculty to carry weapons, while such legislation was almost unheard of two sessions ago. The N.R.A. is also focused on bills protecting the use of deadly force as a first resort when threatened.
“On the state level there is a lot of action,” said Andrew Arulanandam, an N.R.A. spokesman. “Things tend to move faster at the state and local level.”
"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch; Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote."
-- Benjamin Franklin
April 15th, 2008 08:19 AM
I say the climate is changing...I tried to make that point a number of posts ago. My guess is for every one pro...there is 2-3 anti-bills. The next 4 years are going to be very interesting. By the way, the CCW on colleges in OK failed.
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