FairWarining Reports

Advocates Duel Over Who’s Winning Gun Control Battle in the States

Gun rights activists at a demonstration last March in Austin, Texas (Photo by Erika Rich)

A father and his 2-year-old son at a gun rights demonstration last March in Austin, Texas (Photo by Erika Rich)

After being thwarted in Congress following the 2012 school shooting rampage in Newtown, Conn., gun control activists have scored some important victories in states around the country.

One of the biggest wins came in Washington State. In November, voters by a wide margin approved a state ballot measure extending, to gun shows and other private firearms transactions, a requirement for buyer background checks.

But which side has the momentum in the struggle around the nation pitting advocates of tighter controls against supporters of expanded gun rights? That remains a tough call.

With the clash now a state-by-state fight, the dueling camps make competing claims about who has gained ground and who figures to fare better in the years immediately ahead.

Gun control proponents, galvanized by the outcome in Washington State, are hopeful that voter referendums will be an effective new tactic in states that allow ballot measures.

Yet, on balance, November’s elections around the country appear to have shifted power to gun rights-supporting Republicans backed by the National Rifle Association. The change in the political landscape could be a pivotal factor in Texas, the nation’s second biggest state, where lawmakers have filed an array of gun rights measures.

In the hopper are proposals for the open carrying of handguns –including one that would do away with any need for a license. Texas currently is one of only six states that bans the open carrying of handguns. As the Legislative session opened Tuesday, pro-gun rights activists gathered outside the Texas Capitol and, during the rally, one group used a 3D printer to demonstrate how to manufacture a functional gun.

Daniel Webster of Johns Hopkins

“I just really question how prudent it is to allow 19-year-olds to carry concealed handguns around. We don’t even let 19-year-olds drink a beer legally.”
— Daniel Webster, gun policy expert at  Johns Hopkins University

“Generally speaking, I don’t have a particularly optimistic view for strong gun laws in the short run,” said Daniel Webster, director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Webster said proposals to keep firearms away from the mentally ill or perpetrators of domestic violence probably have the best chance. Those issues, he said, sometimes overcome the partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans – a division that prevented major action in Congress even after the Newtown massacre that took the lives of 20 children and six adults.

The complicated state of affairs is reflected in the recently released 2014 “scorecard” on state laws by the gun control group the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

In a news release, the group cited “unprecedented momentum in the fight for smart gun laws” and said 37 states had passed 99 laws strengthening firearms controls since Newtown. Yet the organization gave 27 states “F” grades for their actions on gun regulation last year, versus 26 in 2013. The top grade awarded, “A-minus,” went to only six states in 2014. (State grades and rankings are available here.)

Still, Allison Anderman, a staff lawyer at the Law Center who worked on the scorecard, said gun control advocates scored wins that will affect more people and have more influence nationally.

“We’re looking at real laws, laws that have real impact,” Anderman said. (Her group, once known as the Legal Community Against Violence, was established after an assault weapon rampage in 1993 that killed eight people at a San Francisco law firm.)

Along with the Washington referendum, Anderman pointed to several reforms in Massachusetts. She also cited California’s adoption of a ground-breaking law that allows family members or police to petition a court to temporarily remove a gun owner’s firearm if there is a risk of danger.

The California law was spurred by the deaths of six university students in a shooting spree near Santa Barbara. The killings were carried out by a disturbed gunman who, despite concerns reported to authorities by his family, was allowed by police to keep his firearms.

Anderman contrasted that legislation with legally dubious provisions passed by states including Kansas and Idaho that challenge the federal government’s authority to regulate guns, calling such legislation mere “posturing.”

Catherine Mortensen

“To say that the states are moving in the direction of more severe guns laws, I don’t know what kind of figures they’re looking at, but that’s certainly not what we’re seeing.”
— Catherine Mortensen, NRA spokeswoman, referring to comments by gun control advocates

But the National Rifle Association fires back that Anderman’s group is off-target. “To say that the states are moving in the direction of more severe guns laws, I don’t know what kind of figures they’re looking at, but that’s certainly not what we’re seeing,” said Catherine Mortensen, an NRA spokeswoman.

By the NRA’s count, last year 32 states passed “pro-Second Amendment” legislation that it advocated, versus only four states that curbed gun rights.

Mortensen pointed to a Georgia measure branded by opponents the “guns everywhere” bill as one of the NRA’s biggest victories in 2014. It eases restrictions on bringing guns into bars, government buildings, airports, schools and houses of worship that opt to permit firearms.

Mortensen also cited a new Mississippi law to protect the ability of public housing residents to keep guns, while also blocking counties and municipalities from passing laws gun laws that are more restrictive than state statutes.

Another one of the NRA-backed laws was a broad measure that was adopted by the Missouri legislature over Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto. It cleared the way for more people to openly carry firearms. It also provided for school districts to designate teachers or administrators to serve as “school protection officers” and carry a concealed firearm on campus.

In addition, the Missouri law included a provision lowering the minimum age to obtain a concealed carry permit from 21 to 19.

Mortensen argued – based largely on FBI figures that take into account murders but not gun suicides or accidental gun deaths – that measures pushed by gun control advocates such as the Law Center are ineffective. She said there is no evidence that states with “toughest gun laws are, in fact, keeping people safer.”

The Law Center, relying on more comprehensive fatality figures from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says there is a correlation between tougher gun laws and lower gun-related death rates.

Webster, the Johns Hopkins University gun policy expert, argues that keeping guns away from potentially dangerous people could save thousands of lives. He said he is especially concerned about NRA-backed measures that allow guns where alcohol is sold and on college campuses. He also criticized the Missouri provision lowering the minimum age for a concealed carry permit to 19.

“That age group gets into a lot of trouble,” he explained.

“I just really question how prudent it is to allow 19-year-olds to carry concealed handguns around. We don’t even let 19-year-olds drink a beer legally.”

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About the author

Stuart Silverstein is assistant editor at FairWarning.

9 comments to “Advocates Duel Over Who’s Winning Gun Control Battle in the States”

  1. Billy

    If you don’t think protecting yourself and family is a major right go to Canada or the Queen

  2. Lee Cruse

    “The Law Center, relying on more comprehensive fatality figures from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, – See more at: http://www.fairwarning.org/2015/01/advocates-duel-whos-winning-gun-control-battle-states/#comments

    This statement is a lie and misleading. The CDC does not make a distinction between justified use of a weapon vs criminal use of a weapon. So, all of the good uses of a gun are grouped as “bad”. Now, we all know that when a good guy uses a gun to stop a violent criminal act that the action is good and necessary. In fact the use of a gun to stop a violent criminal action takes place millions of times every year.

    11 million crimes a year stopped by a gun based on Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey

  3. steve

    58% is not a wide margin

  4. jack burton

    Folks, it’s not that hard to look at actual reality instead of the fantasy going on in many people’s heads.

    Dozens of states allow 18 and up to carry legal handguns and no one… NO ONE… can point to any study that shows that the 18 – 21 age group has a worse track record with that responsibility and right than any other age group.

    These anti-freedom people make the most outrageous, lying claims and so-called journalists just pass them on like the gospel truth with no attempt at verification or correction.

  5. Kirk Parker

    Please stop being dishonest-by-omission!

    The WA State initiative did not require background checks on purchases only, but also on very vaguely defined “transfers”–though somehow, this additional restriction did not find it’s way into any of the ads in favor of the measure, nor even into the ballot title!

  6. jimg9x21

    As is usually the case this article was written by someone that has a preconceived idea about the subject and slants the article his way.
    The only “win” you can give the gun control crowd was Washington State but it took three billionaires to support the effort and then they only got the liberal Seattle area (which represents 60% of the voters in the state) to go along with an extremely poorly written law.
    Gun control folks lost all the governorships that were up for grabs including every southern one. They lost more ground in the House, completely lost the Senate and most of the state legislatures moved more to the right. How do you compare that to one “bought” election? It also strikes me funny that the very thing gun control folks have complained about for years, NRA big money, is exactly what got them the one win in Washington.
    Mr. Webster needs to find another line of work as “gun policy expert” sure isn’t his forte. For his information, we give a 19 year old the keys to the car but I don’t hear him calling for a repeal of that law. We also give these young people firearms to protect our country but deny them a beer or the means to protect themselves and their families here in the US. This makes perfect sense to the professor; maybe a refresher course in logic would be appropriate.
    The author should also get his facts straight. The Santa Barbara tragedy indeed had six people killed but three of them were not shot, two were stabbed and one was hit by a car. Compare that to a weekend in Chicago week after week and that California tragedy pales in comparison. California already has some of the strictest gun control measures in the country and they did nothing to prevent a mentally deranged person from mayhem. In fact California’s violent crime rate hasn’t exactly taking a plunge with the advent of all their gun control laws so what was the real point of passing them?
    The author also seems to support the current move to deny people their civil rights without due process. A mere suggestion by an acquaintance or family member to the police is enough to have your rights curtailed. If this is allowed to stand, how long do you think it will take before we deny other rights to people that we “know” are crazy?
    Seems we have just another gun control promotion without benefit of logic or facts.

  7. Navy Davey

    If guns were taken from all participants in any war zone, then gun deaths would go down.
    That would please the anti-gunners like the gun control group the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
    Civilian areas similarly?
    Are both desirable?
    What about self-protection of family and friends and the less strong?
    What about that 2nd Amendment that does not grant a right but merely states that self protection is a right?
    I have personally been attacked for insufficient cause more than once in my life and have fought back a few times, to good effect. I’d sure like to be able to protect mine with a firearm if the situation demanded it, and if others would not, OK with that, but don’t tell me I cannot. In the name of humanity, I demand my rights, all of them!

  8. Doug Baldwin

    I have to like the quote in the piece from Daniel Webster, though it is a harsh truth. On point with that reality were reviews today of the gigantic weekend success of American Sniper, laden with comments that Warner Bros had reached out to a wide range of groups in its successful marketing, including vets of course. But not to gun enthusiasts, even though the Sniper’s widow once gave an impassioned pro gun speech to the NRA and the Sniper himself was writing a book on 10 guns that changed American history — a nifty idea from exactly the right person. That book was surely going to be a winner. The Sniper was a remarkable man, an admirable man, a cool guy, and yet, somehow, something about his end is a complex irony from many angles, which also connects to Silverstein’s excellent overview here.

  9. Bill Inaz

    ““I just really question how prudent it is to allow 19-year-olds to carry concealed handguns around. We don’t even let 19-year-olds drink a beer legally.””

    We sure send them off to other countries to be maimed and die for nothing though.

    You’re old enough to kill but not for votin”**

    **P. F. Sloan

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