Lawmakers playing both sides on gun legislation
Last month’s shooting spree in Parkland, Fla., which killed 17 high school students and staff, started another round of conversations about gun control, but this time, both the offense and defense are in play. State lawmakers have introduced bills to ban bump stocks, ban assault weapons, and expand background checks. But other bills have been introduced to arm teachers, lighten penalties for carrying without a permit, waive handgun permit fees, strengthen stand-your-ground laws.
Republican lawmakers in a number of states are working on moving forward bills that would change existing gun laws, but not by adding more restrictions. Congress, along with President Trump, has stalled on gun control legislation, but the National Rifle Association (NRA) has been campaigning in 11 states to loosen gun restrictions, in part, because of the Parkland and other mass shootings.
The bills, 15 in the 11 states, would strengthen stand-your-ground laws in Wyoming and Idaho, allow people to carry handguns in Oklahoma without permits, and in other states, allow gun owners to carry in more locations. Most of the bills are making their way to the respective governor’s desks.
In Idaho, a bill to strengthen the state’s “stand your ground” law, expands the definition of justifiable homicide to include not just the home, but also a shooter’s vehicle or place of employment.
In West Virginia, the House passed an NRA-backed bill that will allow employees and visitors to have firearms in cars parked on private property. Twenty-two other states have similar “parking lot” laws.
In Indiana, an amendment is on the books to expand an existing bill that would allow guns in schools and churches. Jack Sandlin, the Republican state senator who wrote the bill, calls it “common sense.” Sandlin was in law enforcement for 35-years. “People want to know how to protect themselves and protect their families,” Sandlin said.
While the pro-gun measures are moving forward, support and legislation for more gun control is also on a roll. In Virginia, the NRA has been busy working to defeat more than 60 restrictions during a single legislative session, just prior to Parkland, including universal background checks and a stolen firearms reporting law.
Following Parkland, gun legislation has a better chance of success, if history repeats itself. According to data compiled by NRA, nearly 600 new gun laws were passed following the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting. Also according to NRA, governors since 2013 have enacted 382 “pro-gun” bills. Among these bills – concealed carry licenses now allow people to bring guns on college campuses in 12 states. And gun owners can carry without a permit or training in 10 states.
But also since Sandy Hook, Colorado, Delaware, New York, Oregon and Washington have expanded background checks for gun purchases and Alabama, Louisiana, Nevada, Tennessee, Utah and several other states enacted laws that prevent people convicted of domestic violence from possessing a gun, joining several other states with similar laws on the books.
On Capitol Hill, GOP leaders are in a bit of a quandary over a number of gun proposals, including background checks at gun shows and for online sales. “We have voted that down before so I don’t know why we would need to have that vote again unless something’s changed,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.).
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is asking for more investigations into the failures of the FBI and local law enforcement surrounding the Parkland shooting.
“We need to get to the bottom of how these breakdowns occurred,” Ryan told reporters this week. “We’re going to be looking at the system failures.”
Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA, seemed confident that President Trump would not impose more restrictions. “POTUS & VPOTUS support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don’t want gun control,” he tweeted.
A “stand your ground” bill advancing in Wyoming Legislature has been “virtually gutted,” according to supporters of the bill.
The bill would grant individuals immunity from prosecution for assault or murder if a shooter claimed self-defense. Rep. Tim Salazar, R-Dubois, sponsored the measure and said it was necessary to allow people to act without fear when defending themselves or their families.
“I don’t want to run,” Salazar said during the bill’s discussion. “I want to defend the life of my 9-year-old that I love — and that means no retreat.”
According to Salazar, Wyoming is the only western state with a “duty to retreat” law on the books.
David Ball, President at Wyoming Gun Owners, says the Senate amended the legislation, but moved it forward.
“Senators approved an amendment by Sen. Curt Meier [R-Goshen/Niobrara/Weston counties] that would allow people to use deadly force in self-defense as long as they have an “honest belief” that they or someone else is in danger,” Ball wrote.
The House passed the Senate version of the bill in a 7 – 1 vote, and the Senate passed the House’s version of the bill through their committee (with an amendment to make the two bills identical) by a vote of 4 – 1.
“At this point, anti-gun organizations are desperate to do anything to stop the bill,” Ball said. “From absurd ‘what-if’s’ being batted about in committee hearings to illegal robo calls that are, reportedly, being launched across the state – anti-gunners are pulling out all the stops.”
The Wyoming chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, part of Everytown for Gun Safety, oppose the bill, and are asking the Senate Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee to reject it, on the grounds that it is dangerous legislation.
“HB 168 would let people shoot to kill in public even if there is a clear and safe alternative, hinder homicide investigations and make it difficult for shooting victims to obtain compensation for their injuries,” the group said in a press release.
While Wyoming may be moving its “stand your ground” legislation forward, Colorado has put the brakes on similar legislation.
Democratic state lawmakers rejected three GOP bills to loosen gun regulations in the state, following an eight-hour hearing. The legislation included allowing concealed-carry permit holders to take guns into schools and repealed the state’s ban on high-capacity magazines. It also would have allowed business owners and employees to use deadly force if in danger, comparable to the “make my day law” homeowners in Colorado can use.
One bill, HS-1037, would have allowed teachers to carry a concealed weapon. Legislation to lift Colorado’s 15 round capacity on gun magazines also failed to make it out of a house committee.
A Senate committee is currently reviewing a bill that would allow a concealed carry without a permit or training. If the bill makes it through the Republican-lead Senate, opponents believe it would likely die in the state House.
South Dakota Legislation
In South Dakota, a bill was introduced that would exempt private schools and churches from laws that make it illegal to carry guns on school grounds. House Bill 1271 would allow individuals to carry a firearm for self-defense on the premises of any nonpublic school, church or house of worship, or a nonpublic school that is located on the premises of a church or other house of worship.
On March 1, the South Dakota Senate passed House Bill 1271 by a 28-6 vote. “This important self-defense legislation will now head to the desk of Governor Dennis Daugaard for his signature,” NRA posted.
Another bill that has passed through legislation, waiting for Daugaard’s signature, would require that applicants for a South Dakota concealed carry license to undergo a background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
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