The great divide in Washington over what to do about gun violence
has spread to the states, where the top law officers are split
sharply over which is the greater need: more gun-control measures,
or better enforcement of existing laws.
An informal Monitor survey of more than a dozen state attorneys
general shows the issue breaks along party and geographical lines.
But it also reveals a rising interest in new, "common sense" gun-
control legislation - even among some attorneys general from
conservative, pro-gun states. While the states' gun laws still vary
widely, a few ideas, such as requiring background checks for gun
buyers at gun shows, are gaining credence among this group of top
"We have to get into a common-sense mode," says Jim Doyle,
Wisconsin attorney general, a Democrat. "The country's ready.
Whether legislative bodies are ready is another matter."
The politically explosive nature of the debate does not elude the
AGs, who are usually careful to reflect the attitudes and gun values
of their respective states. Minnesota's attorney general, for
example, shares his office with a bear, stuffed and mounted on the
wall. But Mike Hatch, a Democrat, is quick to say he didn't shoot
it: "I wrestled mine," he jokes.
In general, AGs who serve in states in the Northeast and along
the Pacific Ocean are pushing to add new gun-control laws to the
books. Those in the South and the mountain West are focusing more on
"The pattern is ... different depending on the region," says
Larry Sabato, a professor of government at the University of
Virginia in Charlottesville. "Proposals are being changed or
defeated on the nature of the state."
A report released today, by the New York-based Open Society
Institute, shows wide discrepancies between the states when it comes
to gun laws. Massachusetts, the report shows, has the strongest gun-
control laws. Maine has no laws. The report uses 30 criteria - such
as background checks, waiting periods, and child-safety laws - to
rank the states. Regional patterns emerged as well, with Southern
and Western states ranking lower on average.
The Monitor found that attitudes of state attorneys general are
equally divided. Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly (D) has
recently imposed mandatory safety regulations - including trigger
locks - on all guns, and banned "Saturday night specials." On the
other end of the spectrum, Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor (R)
is trying to repeal one of the few gun-control laws the state has -
a waiting period for handgun purchases.
Yet in several states, attorneys general are pushing for some
"Most law-abiding citizens should be able to possess guns," says
Wisconsin's Mr. Doyle. But, he adds, "the gun lobby has been
effective in stopping us from reaching a basic, middle-of-the-road
One such piece of legislation, in Doyle's eyes, is a measure to
end the "gun-show loophole," which allows people to buy handguns at
gun shows without being submitted to background checks. …