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State Legislatures’ Reactions to Mass Shootings

2 September 2016


The issue of gun rights has been greatly debated in the United States over the past few years, and the June 12, 2016 mass shooting in Florida has once again brought the topic to the forefront of American politics.

Opponents of gun control measures typically believe that allowing citizens easier access to guns so that they can defend themselves will make America safer, while supporters generally advocate for tightening gun laws to prevent those with bad intent from obtaining guns, thus preventing future attacks on citizens.

In the 30 states that are Republican controlled at the moment, mass shootings have mostly resulted in the introduction of bills that loosen existing regulations on guns. Current trends in state legislatures include bills concerning concealed carry and background checks.

So far, Vote Smart has identified 42 state level key votes in 2016 regarding guns. This number will likely increase as states react to mass shootings.

Studies reveal that following a mass shooting in a state, the number of proposed gun control bills increases by 15 percent, and Republican controlled legislatures enact 75 percent more laws that loosen existing regulations on guns.

Although Democrat controlled, the California legislature has already passed 11 bills regarding gun control since the Orlando shooting, with Governor Jerry Brown signing 6 into law and vetoing the other 5.

AB 1135 and SB 880 establish definitions for “assault weapon” and “fixed magazine,” closing the “bullet button loophole.” To comply with California’s previous law that prohibited guns with detachable magazines, manufacturers developed guns with small buttons that can be used to switch out the magazine of a gun. AB 1135 and SB 880 prohibit these “bullet buttons” on firearms in addition to existing regulations.

These pieces of legislation also require an individual who lawfully possessed an assault weapon that does not have a fixed magazine from January 1, 2001 to December 31, 2016 to register the firearm with the Department of Justice. SB 1446 prohibits an individual from possessing a large-capacity magazine and establishes penalties for this action as well as exceptions to the law. SB 1235 requires the Department of Justice to authorize ammunition purchases.

After signing these bills into law, Governor Brown commented, “My goal in signing these bills is to enhance public safety by tightening our existing laws in a responsible and focused manner, while protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners.”

However, Amy Hunter, a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association described the approved legislation as “a draconian gun control package that turns California’s law-abiding gun owners into second-class citizens.”

Prior in the year, the state legislatures of Missouri, New Hampshire, Idaho, West Virginia, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Virginia held votes to pass bills that authorize the concealed carry of firearms without a permit.

With the exception of Colorado, who has a split legislature, all of these states’ legislatures are Republican controlled. The Democratic governors of Missouri, New Hampshire, and West Virginia vetoed the concealed carry bills passed by the state legislatures. However, in West Virginia, both houses voted to override the veto. The Virginia Senate failed to pass the initial bill, the Colorado House referred the bill to a committee to postpone it indefinitely, and the Oklahoma legislature let the bill die in conference.

However, Republican Governor Butch Otter of Idaho signed S 1389 into law, authorizing an individual of age 21 or older to carry a concealed handgun without a license.

Although the above votes considered concealed carry broadly, other states had key votes regarding concealed carry in public places, in vehicles, at institutions of higher education, and near schools.

In addition to open carry laws, many bills have been proposed to amend current regulations on background checks for those wishing to purchase a firearm. Under federal law, a firearms dealer may not proceed with the sale of a firearm until one of the following conditions has been met: the prospective buyer has been cleared by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which was developed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; or 3 business days have elapsed, even if the background check is not complete.

Delaware HB 325, which was signed by Governor Jack Markell, extends the period before which the sale of a firearm can be completed without passage of a background check from 3 days to 25 days.

Regarding his decision, Markell commented, “The common sense step we take today is about keeping people safe, which shouldn’t be a partisan issue. This represents another important step on gun safety, showing we can protect the second amendment while also not accepting the tragic consequences of lax gun laws.” However, Republican David Lawson believes “this bill does nothing to protect the public” and that “it does nothing to protect law enforcement.”

Florida’s legislature is currently not in session, and the Democrat call for a special session failed to garner the three-fifths vote required in the Florida House. Therefore, the currently Republican-controlled Florida Legislature's reaction to the June 12 shooting will not be revealed until the 2017 Florida regular legislative session, which begins the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March and continues for 60 consecutive days.

Gun control will continue to be an emotionally charged topic as mass shootings are a major driver of the conversation. Although most politicians and citizens agree that unsolicited mass attacks on civilians is unacceptable, there is disagreement regarding whether tighter or looser regulations on purchase and possession of firearms will best help protect the American people.

To monitor key votes regarding guns as they are added, visit Project Vote Smart’s website.

Melody Rodriguez is a sophomore at Stanford University intending to major in Public Policy and a current intern with Project Vote Smart. For more information on internship opportunities with Project Vote Smart, contact us at or by calling 1-888-VOTE-SMART.


Related tags: blog, gun-control, gun-legislation, guns, state-legislation

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