Despite shootings, states return to familiar patterns

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The interior of Stephen Paddock’s 32nd floor room of the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas after the Oct. 1, 2017 mass shooting. A review of all firearms-related legislation passed this year, encompassing the first full state legislative sessions since the Vegas attack, shows a mixed record. Gun control bills did pass in a number of states, but the year was not the national game-changer gun-control advocates hoped for. | Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department via AP

Shortly after last year’s shooting massacre on the Las Vegas strip, Ohio Gov. John Kasich convened a working group to explore possible reforms to state gun laws.

A Republican, Kasich appointed panel members who supported the Second Amendment and came from across the political spectrum. Their work accelerated after the Valentine’s Day slaughter at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

They eventually produced a legislative package that included what Kasich called “sensible changes that should keep people safer.” The legislation was introduced by a Republican lawmaker in the GOP-dominated Legislature.

It went nowhere.

Among other objections, the Republican leadership raised constitutional concerns about a provision allowing courts to order that weapons be seized from individuals showing signs of violence.

“The way we put it together, the fact that you had people on both sides of the issue — I would have thought something would have happened,” Kasich said. “But the negative voices come in unison and they come strongly.”

The Ohio experience is not unusual.

An Associated Press review of all firearms-related legislation passed this year, encompassing the first full state legislative sessions since the Las Vegas attack, shows a decidedly mixed record. Gun control bills did pass in a number of states, but the year was not the national game-changer that gun-control advocates had hoped it could be.

Even in a year that included yet another mass school shooting and an unprecedented level of gun-control activism, state legislatures across the country fell back to largely predictable and partisan patterns.

“It’s exactly what happened after Newtown: The anti-gun states became more anti-gun and the pro-gun states became more pro-gun,” said Michael Hammond, the legislative counsel for Gun Owners of America, referring to the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that killed 20 children and six educators.

The major exceptions were Florida and Vermont.

Both states have Republican governors and long traditions of gun ownership. Lawmakers passed sweeping legislation after the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 14 students and three staff members and after a foiled school shooting plot in Vermont days later.

The law signed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott banned bump stocks, raised the gun buying age to 21, imposed a three-day waiting period for purchases and authorized police to seek court orders seizing guns from individuals who are deemed threats to themselves and others. The latter provision has already been used hundreds of times.

But no other Republican-dominated state followed Florida’s lead, the AP review found.

The Parkland shooting did slow momentum for additional gun rights bills in some Republican-led states, but others pushed forward with pro-gun policy agendas. They widened the definition of who can legally carry a weapon in public, allowed more concealed weapons in schools, churches and government buildings, and strengthened legal protections for people who claim they shot someone in self-defense.

In Tennessee, county commissioners were granted the ability to carry concealed handguns in their workplaces. Oklahoma approved a bill allowing permit holders to carry handguns while scouting. Nebraska lawmakers enacted a long-sought bill shielding all documents related to gun permits from the open records law.

In South Carolina, where a state senator was killed in the 2015 church shooting in Charleston, lawmakers rejected a simple bill requiring court clerks to enter convictions and restraining orders in a timely fashion to strip gun rights from people who have been disqualified from possessing firearms.

The most significant policy development, the review found, was the enactment of so-called “red flag laws” in eight states. Those laws allow police or relatives to seek court orders to seize guns from people who are showing signs of violence.

Five Republican governors signed those laws, which have been used to seize guns from hundreds of individuals already this year.

Supporters say the laws are proven to save lives, and they were a rallying cry amid reports that the suspected Parkland high school gunman, Nikolas Cruz, was deeply troubled yet allowed to own guns. Nine states also approved laws this year to ban bump stocks, the rapid-trigger devices that a gunman used as he shot hundreds of people at the music festival in Las Vegas, including 58 who were killed.

But often, the debate over public safety and the reach of the Second Amendment played out in statehouses with familiar results.

In Colorado, a state rocked by the 1999 Columbine High School and 2012 Aurora theater mass shootings, lawmakers in the divided Legislature refused to compromise.

The Democratic-controlled House passed bills to ban bump stocks and enact a red flag law that had the support of many police officers and prosecutors. But the Republican-controlled Senate quickly assigned those to a “kill” committee and defeated them.

“To me, the Second Amendment and individual rights demand the highest respect. That’s the basis of where I come from,” said Republican Sen. Tim Neville, one of the capitol’s most ardent gun rights activists.

Associated Press writers Jim Anderson in Denver, Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, Gary Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vermont, contributed.

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