On gun control, states are where the action is

Graphic by Bob Lannon/Sunlight Foundation

While efforts to strengthen gun laws at the federal level stalled out this year, several states approved sweeping new gun control laws in the wake of last December’s shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. But even in those states, the battle is far from over: Where there are new laws, there are vows to overturn them and punish the lawmakers who supported them.

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Meanwhile, in many more states, both gun control and gun rights legislation was high on legislatures’ agendas. In April, a review of 1,500 state level bills by the Sunlight Foundation using Open States, a tool that allows users to explore state legislation, showed an almost even split on both sides of the issue: The number of bills that would more tightly regulate guns nearly equaled by the number designed to extend or defend gun rights.

The outcome of the year’s flurry of legislative activity was similarly mixed, as this timeline of some of the most headline-making bills — and the fallout from them — demonstrates.

January 15

New York: The year started with an emphatic win for gun control forces as Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the major gun control legislation 31 days after a gunman killed 26 people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. It was the first gun bill to be enacted after the shootings. The SAFE Act, as it is known, tightened restrictions on assault weapons and extended background checks to most gun sales and required mental health officials to report to authorities when they believe a person is a danger to themselves, among other changes. In a bow to gun owners, it allowed pistol permit holders to opt out of a public database of gun permit holders. This followed a controversy immediately after the Newtown shooting in which a local New York newspaper had published a map of county gun owners in the area of its readership.

In-state gun rights activists immediately started up petitions to revoke the law, and several bills to repeal it have been introduced in the legislature. Prospects are seen as unlikely, however, given the makeup of the current legislature. Mental health professionals in the state have also raised concerns about reporting provisions in the bill, worried that people won’t come forward for help if they know they may be reported to authorities. The New York Psychiatric Association has drafted proposed amendments to the SAFE Act that address these concerns.

Read the bill here, on Sunlight’s Open States tool.

March 20

Colorado: Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, signed three bills that together made sweeping changes in the state’s gun laws: one extending background checks for private and online gun sales and another to prohibit large capacity magazines. The other, which was less controversial, involved payment for background checks. The Colorado law immediately came under attack by gun rights groups and inspired the successful recall elections in September of two state senators who had voted in favor of the law. The day before Thanksgiving, another state lawmaker who voted in favor of the gun control bills, Democratic state Sen. Evie Hudak, announced she would resign rather than face her own brewing recall election, a decision widely seen as a means to maintain the slender Democratic majority in the state Senate.

Read the bills here, here, and here, on Sunlight’s Open States tool.

April 4

Connecticut: Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, signed into law new restrictions on high capacity magazines, expanded background checks on gun laws and toughened the state’s assault weapon ban. But even in the state where the horror of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting literally hit home, efforts to restrict access to the types of weapons used in the attack have spawned controversy. This month, a federal court dismissed a suit challenging the law by the National Shooting Sports Federation, which also happens to be headquartered in Newtown. But other lawsuits by gun rights groups challenging the law are pending.

Read the bill here on Sunlight’s Open States tool.

May 16

Maryland: Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is being mentioned as a potential Democratic presidential contender in 2016, signed into law provisions that limit gun magazines, bans 45 types of assault weapons and gives the Maryland State Police authority to suspend the licenses of gun dealers who do not keep proper records, among other changes.

Read the bill here on Sunlight’s Open States tool.

June 13

Nevada: Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, vetoed a bill that would have strengthened background checks for gun purchaser, which was passed by the Democratic legislature. The veto came despite a heavy advertising campaign on behalf of the legislation by Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Pro-gun control organizations may continue the fight into the next election season, when Sandoval will be seeking a second term. Mark Kelly of Americans for Responsible Solutions, the gun control organization that he and his wife, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., founded after the assassination attempt on her, vowed that the group will not forget Sandoval’s veto. Mayors Against Illegal Guns is reportedly considering the state for targeting in the coming year.

Read the bill here on Sunlight’s Open States tool.

October 11

California: Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, approved a package of 10 gun bills but vetoed seven of the toughest measures, including two provisions that would have strengthened restrictions on assault weapons. Brown is also up for re-election next year and has made it clear he intends to run for a fourth term as chief executive of a state that, despite its Democratic tilt, also has a strong conservative and libertarian tradition.

Read the two vetoed assault weapon bills here and here on Sunlight’s Open States tool.