IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) – The campaign for tighter gun laws that inspired unprecedented student walkouts across the country still faces an uphill climb in a majority of states, an Associated Press review of gun legislation found.
The AP survey of bill activity in state legislatures before and after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting provides a reality check on the ambitions of the “Enough is Enough” movement. It suggests that votes like the one in Florida, where Republican lawmakers defied the National Rifle Association to pass new gun regulations, are unlikely to be repeated in many other states, at least not this year.
The student-led activism might yet lead to future reforms, but for now, the gun debate among most lawmakers still falls along predictable and largely partisan lines, with few exceptions, according to the analysis.
Because Congress shows no sign of acting, state legislatures dominate the national debate over guns. And major changes won’t be easy to achieve in statehouses that are mostly controlled by the gun-friendly GOP.
Republicans have sponsored more than 80 percent of bills that would expand gun rights, while Democrats have introduced more than 90 percent of bills to limit them. The total number of gun-rights and gun-control bills identified by AP statehouse reporters is roughly equal – about 300 in each category.
Many of the Democratic gun-control bills have been introduced in legislatures dominated by Republicans, meaning they have little or no chance of passing.
“I think [the] public attitude has changed, but I don’t see a big change here in the Legislature,” said Iowa Rep. Art Staed, a Democrat who sought unsuccessfully after the Parkland attack to force the Iowa House to consider allowing courts to temporarily seize guns from dangerous individuals. “It’s been very frustrating.”
Iowa’s GOP-controlled Legislature, which last year approved a historic expansion of gun rights, has not held hearings on Democratic proposals to ban assault-style weapons, prohibit high-capacity magazines or expand background checks. Instead, lawmakers have considered more pro-gun initiatives, including a bill to allow residents to carry handguns without obtaining permits and a resolution to enshrine the right to bear arms in the Iowa Constitution.
Iowa Gun Owners, a “no-compromise gun lobby,” has mobilized its members to pressure Republican lawmakers to hold firm.
“We’re not going to back off any advocacy of expanding gun rights,” Executive Director Aaron Dorr said.
After the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, public support for gun control reached the highest point since 1993, with two-thirds of Americans supporting stricter laws, according to a Gallup Poll released Wednesday.
Several corporations have also cut ties with the NRA, and some retailers have announced they will no longer sell rifles to anyone under 21. But the response in states has been more predictable.
Some Democratic-controlled states with restrictive gun and ammunition laws are moving to tighten them further. Aside from Florida, Republican-led states have mostly rejected new gun-control measures and instead are weighing whether to arm teachers and allow more guns in public places.
Several states are considering raising the age to buy rifles to 21 or debating “red flag” laws that would allow courts to order the temporary seizure of guns from people showing signs of mental distress or violence. But even those are running into resistance from pro-gun lawmakers.
Democratic lawmakers who control the Illinois Legislature acted swiftly after the Parkland assault to approve a long-debated bill requiring state licensing for firearms dealers, a measure intended to increase oversight and eliminate straw sales. But Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the measure Tuesday, saying it would hurt small businesses and do little to stop violence.
NRA leader Wayne LaPierre said this week that his group would oppose all “failed gun control” plans, including proposals to raise the gun-buying age, require background checks on private gun sales and transfers or ban semi-automatic rifles and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
Gun-control advocates see major progress in Florida’s new law, which raises the rifle-buying age, creates a three-day waiting period to buy long guns and allows law enforcement to seek a court order to prevent access to guns for people who show signs of violence or mental illness. It also allows some teachers to be armed and bans bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic rifles to mimic fully automatic ones.
Both sides are also watching traditionally gun-friendly Vermont, where the Republican governor recently abandoned his stance against new gun control laws after the arrest of an 18-year-old accused of plotting a school shooting. Hunters packed the Capitol this week to protest some curbs being considered by the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
The divide over how to respond has left young people like Alexia Medero wondering if change will ever come. The senior at Parkland High School outside Allentown, Pennsylvania, was one of hundreds who walked out of class Wednesday and attended a campus rally dubbed #parklandforparkland. After the event, she said she worries that the activism won’t produce any real change.
“I’m afraid that with this shooting, like the others, people are going to mourn the victims and then a few months later forget about it,” she said. “And nothing will happen.”
Timeline of pivotal moments in US gun control history
Gun control is one of the most polarizing issues in U.S. society. For nearly a century, legislation and U.S. Supreme Court cases have shaped federal gun policy. Following are some pivotal moments in that history:
1871 –The National Rifle Association is formed by two Union veterans who were disappointed by the lack of marksmanship by their troops. The goal of the group was to "promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis," one of the veterans wrote in a magazine editorial, according to the NRA.
1927 – Congress passes the "Nonmailable Firearms Act of 1927, making it illegal to use the U.S. mail to ship "pistols, revolvers, and other firearms capable of being concealed on the person." Exceptions were made for military, police and other official purposes. The penalty for violations was up to two years in prison and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
1934 – The National Firearms Act, the first comprehensive federal gun control legislation, is enacted, aimed at cracking down on the bloody gangland era of Al Capone, John Dillinger and others. The law imposed a $200 tax, which was considered prohibitive at the time, on machine guns and shotguns and rifles with barrels shorter than 18 inches. It also required the federal registration of these types of firearms. The act was part of President Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal for Crime."
1938 – The Federal Firearms Act of 1938 takes effect, requiring firearms licenses for gun dealers, manufacturers and importers. It compelled sellers to keep customer records and banned sales to some people, including convicted felons.
1939 – The U.S. Supreme Court, in U.S. v. Miller, rules that a short-barrel shotgun is not a weapon protected under the Second Amendment.
1968 – The assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, the Rev. Martin Luther King and Sen. Robert Kennedy lead to the Gun Control Act of 1968. It created new categories of firearms crimes, banned the sale of firearms and ammunition to felons and other prohibited groups of people, and imposed federal jurisdiction over "destructive devices," including bombs and grenades, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
1986 – The Firearm Owners' Protection Act amends the 1968 law, relaxing some gun control measures. It limited ATF inspections of sellers to once a year, repealed some record-keeping requirements for the sale of ammunition, prohibited the government from establishing a national registry of gun owners, and permitted gun dealers, importers and manufacturers to do business at temporary locations, such as gun shows.
1993 – The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 requires federal background checks before a firearm can be purchased from a federally licensed dealer, manufacturer or importer. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is maintained by the FBI, conducts the checks. The law is named after James Brady, who was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981 when he was serving as White House press secretary. Reagan and two others also were shot. Brady died in 2014.
1994 – Congress passes a 10-year ban on the manufacture, transfer and possession of new semi-automatic assault weapons. The ban was part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which also banned certain large capacity ammunition magazines. The measure applied only to weapons manufactured after the ban was enacted, and it expired in 2004. Numerous efforts to renew it have failed.
2003 – The Tiahrt Amendment, proposed by Todd Tiahrt, a Kansas Republican, bars the ATF from publicly releasing information about where criminals bought their firearms.
2005 – President George W. Bush signs the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, prohibiting gun manufacturers and dealers from being named in civil lawsuits in federal and state courts when crimes are committed involving their firearms.
2008 – In the District of Columbia v. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that Americans have a constitutional right to keep handguns and commonly used firearms in their homes for self-defense. The ruling struck down the District of Columbia's 32-year handgun ban as incompatible with gun rights under the Second Amendment.
Associated Press writers Michelle Price in Salt Lake City and Michael Rubinkam in Allentown, Pennsylvania, contributed to this report.
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