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States Head In Different Directions On Gun Legislation


There's an interesting dynamic to gun legislation after a calamitous tragedy. Many states, like Oregon, set out to make gun controls tougher. We've also seen that today in Connecticut, which extended background checks, limited magazine size and banned some semi-automatic weapons.

GOVERNOR DANNEL MALLOY: We can take action here in Connecticut and we can make Connecticut towns and cities safer and this bill does that.

SIEGEL: That's Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy. But with gun laws, actions seem to have, if not equal, at least opposite reactions. Pro gun groups have pushed legislation that loosens gun restrictions. In South Dakota, Gov. Dennis Daugaard has signed several measures of that sort into law, including a so-called sentinel law that allows school employees to be armed.

GOVERNOR DENNIS DAUGAARD: My children went to a school where there was armed law enforcement officer in the school and any sentinel would have to have the same kind of training that that law enforcement person had.

SIEGEL: That was Governor Daugaard on South Dakota Public Radio. For a sense of how these two different trends in gun laws are playing out nationwide, we've called on Jack Nicas, who covers these matters for the Wall Street Journal out of Chicago. Welcome to the program.

JACK NICAS: Good afternoon.

SIEGEL: First, let's take the states that have passed the pro-gun laws. Which states have adopted laws like that and what did they do?

NICAS: Well, we've seen Arkansas eliminate prohibitions on carrying guns in churches and on campuses. Tennessee now allows gun owners to bring their firearms to work and keep them in their cars even against the employer's wishes. And many of the other laws have dealt with the concealed carry laws, such as in Kentucky, which shortened the process to get a concealed weapon permit. And also, many states have passed laws to make gun owner data confidential.

SIEGEL: These are laws that all would strengthen in the view of their sponsors the gun rights of the citizens of those states. What about states that have intensified gun controls?

NICAS: Well, we've really seen three big sweeping laws in New York, Colorado and in, today, Connecticut. New York and Colorado are requiring background checks on all firearm sales and also limiting the size of ammunition magazines. Connecticut did that and went a step farther, also banning certain semiautomatic weapons.

But what we've seen is, despite these being the most significant legislation thus far this year, there have been more states that have passed laws that weaken restrictions on guns. With Connecticut today, six states have passed eight laws that strengthen gun restrictions while 10 states have passed 17 laws that weaken them.

SIEGEL: So the pro-gun legislators, at least, seem to be winning. What appears to be the decisive factor? Which party is in control, the state legislature, region of the country, what would you say?

NICAS: Even though after Newtown there was wide public support for stronger gun control measures. The bottom line was Republicans still control the majority of state legislatures across the country and gun rights lobby groups, such as the NRA and its affiliates, have been much more active in state legislatures. We looked at the numbers from 2007 to 2012. The NRA and its affiliates spent more than 2.3 million in state legislatures and lobbying. Meanwhile, gun control groups spent just $55,000.

SIEGEL: Jack Nicas, is there any received wisdom as to whether state law as opposed to federal law is more important in affecting what actually happens with weapons? For decades we've had a federal law banning maching guns, for example, and that seems to be pretty effective.

NICAS: Absolutely. Federal law is key here. State law, though, is not insignificant because, in many ways, it can restrict where you can carry your concealed weapon, you know, whether or not you can even carry a concealed weapon. But they are also harmed by the fact that - especially if you lived near a border, many times you can drive right across the border and maybe pick up that firearm you wanted.

SIEGEL: Jack Nicas, thanks for talking with us.

NICAS: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Jack Nicas is a staff reporter with the Wall Street Journal. He spoke to us from Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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