Congress disgraced itself by refusing to toughen gun laws after the slaughter of children a year ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., yawning in the face of a national tragedy. Meanwhile, the battle for reform in state capitals continued and intensified.
Some states that already had lax gun laws, mainly in the South and Midwest, moved to relax them further, in the apparent belief that a Wild West approach would promote a safer citizenry. Montana enacted a measure barring health-care providers from asking patients whether they own guns; Tennessee cut the waiting period for people who want a handgun permit after they leave a drug or alcohol treatment program; and Alaska and Kansas nullified some federal firearms laws so that they will no longer apply in those states.
According to an analysis by The New York Times of state legislation enacted since the Newtown massacre, about two-thirds of the 109 new firearms laws around the country loosen restrictions — for instance, by easing the rules governing concealed-carry permits or allowing guns to be brought into places of worship or schools.
The irony and tragedy of such efforts is that many states with the most anemic gun laws already have the highest rates of gun deaths, according to a new report from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. By further relaxing restrictions on weapons, those states may invite even more gun violence.
Other states, mainly those with legislatures controlled by Democrats, responded to the Newtown shootings by toughening measures that regulate the sale and use of firearms.
Among them was Maryland, which enacted an ambitious law. The state’s gun laws are now ranked as fourth toughest in the nation, trailing those of California, Connecticut and New Jersey. While Maryland is not among the 10 states with the lowest rates of gun death, seven of 10 states with the toughest gun restrictions are. And while a survey by the Brady Campaign said that more research is needed, its authors noted that the data they collected suggest an inverse correlation between the muscularity of state gun laws and the rate of gun deaths.
Eight states have enacted major reforms to curb gun violence in the year since Sandy Hook, the Brady Campaign’s report shows, and a dozen others enacted at least some laws to address the problem. Five states adopted background checks or toughened rules for issuing licenses. Four enacted laws requiring that gun owners report lost or stolen weapons to the police; four beefed up restrictions on the sale of military-style assault weapons; and five moved to limit the use of large-capacity ammunition clips.
The survey dents the image of invincibility enjoyed by the National Rifle Association and its brethren in the gun lobby. In fact, America’s gun laws are an evolving patchwork. That offers some hope for further reform, but it also undercuts the effectiveness of restrictions that are in place. Criminals stymied by one state’s restrictions can cross a border to procure what they need in a neighboring state.