In statehouses across America, lawmakers disturbed by recent
school shootings are ushering in a new age of gun control - one that
goes beyond what Congress has attempted.
While action in Washington has grabbed most of the attention, the
shift in sentiment on gun rights is even more pronounced in
hinterland. In the past month, about a dozen states have enacted
laws to regulate gun sales or shelved legislation backed by the
National Rifle Association.
The votes are significant because states are a traditional
stronghold of the NRA, although the influence of the gun-rights
has begun to wane in recent years.
As a result, "gun-control legislation is definitely easier to pass
at the state level," says Jon Vernick of Johns Hopkins University's
Center for Gun Policy and Research in Baltimore.
While the Senate has "mustered the will to close the loophole on
one type of sale - at gun shows," a number of states already go
further, he says.
Even before this new round of gun controls, Maryland and
California, for instance, required background checks on handgun
transactions, including private sales.
In the five weeks since two students killed 13 others and
themselves at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., activity in
state capitals suggests legislators are viewing the gun debate
through the lens of that tragedy.
*Illinois lawmakers passed a law requiring safe storage of guns -
a measure that had stalled for years.
*The New Jersey Senate is moving on a measure to require that
every gun sold in the state be equipped with a child-proof trigger
lock. It is being pushed by Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman.
*Arizona lawmakers abandoned a proposal to prevent cities from
imposing local gun-control ordinances.
*In Florida, Ohio, and Colorado, Republicans backed away from
bills that would have prohibited cities from suing gun
*In California, a bill that makes it illegal to purchase more than
one handgun per month passed the Assembly by one vote. The deciding
vote was cast by a lawmaker who confessed that he had trouble
sleeping after Columbine.
*Republican lawmakers in Colorado withdrew two pro-gun measures
that, until the Littleton incident, were headed for passage. The
bills were considered a barometer of the nation's gun-control
and were intensely lobbied by the NRA.
"In times like this, people don't want to hear about more guns on
the street," says Kelly Anders, a policy analyst for the National
Conference of State Legislatures. In the past, she reflects, school
shootings were viewed as tragic, but not necessarily as a national
Now, "it stands to reason that people have stopped thinking that
these things are all aberrations," she says. …