Mass Shootings Influence Spike In Gun-Related Laws At State Level

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Dallas Police Chief David Brown is challenging lawmakers to debate gun control. Yesterday, he said do your job. We’re doing ours. While it’s true that Congress has failed to pass new gun laws, even after mass shootings, things look different at the state level, as NPR’s Nathan Rott reports.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: All right. Let’s start by dispelling a myth about gun laws with the help of Deepak Malhotra, a researcher at Harvard Business School.

DEEPAK MALHOTRA: It’s not that nothing changes after a mass shooting.

ROTT: In fact, a lot changes in terms of laws, more than you probably think and certainly more than Malhotra and two of his colleagues thought when they started researching how state legislatures react to mass shootings after one occurs in that state. Here’s fellow researcher Chris Poliquin.

CHRIS POLIQUIN: We looked at all gun bills introduced in state legislatures between 1990 and 2014.

ROTT: Roughly 25 years of gun-related bills, and there were a lot of them – more than 20,000 that were introduced following a mass shooting.

POLIQUIN: And roughly 3,211, I believe, became law.

ROTT: Yes. You heard that right. Roughly 3,200 gun-related bills that have become state laws after a mass shooting – from laws requiring background checks for private sales to laws that allow firearms in public schools. So gun laws do change after a mass shooting. How they change and to what effect? Well, that’s a bit trickier. Malhotra says their research shows how a state reacts to a mass shooting is almost always ideological. It depends on the dominant political party in the state.

MALHOTRA: So if you have a Republican legislature in your state and you have a mass shooting, the net effect is when you look at the actual bills that get passed, there’s a significant increase in bills that loosen gun restrictions.

ROTT: And if you have a Democrat-controlled legislature, actually the research says there is no such effect. Now, that’s not to say the Democrat-led states don’t pass laws to tighten gun regulations after a mass shooting. They just don’t do so at a higher rate. A good recent example of this is California, where the state’s governor recently signed six gun-control bills into law, many in response to the mass shooting in San Bernardino which killed 14 people. Here’s State Senator Kevin de Leon.


KEVIN DE LEON: We’ve covered a large spectrum when it comes to gun safety measures from high-capacity cartridges to domestic violence and temporary restraining orders.

ROTT: Now, six gun laws sounds like a lot, right? But for comparison in 2013, California approved 11 gun-related laws. It approved four in 2014. So it’s really not that unusual for the state to pass a number of laws tightening restrictions on firearms.

Republican-controlled states are different. Gun-related bills don’t come up as often, and when they do, they’re typically not aimed at tightening gun restrictions, but loosening them. Take Tennessee – last July, a gunman killed four people and injured three more at a military recruiting station and a Navy building in Chattanooga, two places that were gun-free zones to everyone except police. For a state representative and Republican Andy Holt…

ANDY HOLT: It confirmed even more the idea that gun-free zones left those servicemen and women literally sitting ducks.

ROTT: In response, the state has since approved five bills related to guns, including one sponsored by Holt that allows full-time employees of public universities to carry handguns on campus.

HOLT: When we put instruments of defense in the hands of law-abiding citizens, in my opinion, I think we see a decrease in criminal statistics.

ROTT: Whether or not that’s true is harder to say. There is little research that shows how specific gun laws influence gun violence. Still, some Republican lawmakers in Florida have already voiced similar opinions to hold since the Orlando shooting. Nightclubs like Pulse where 49 people were killed are considered gun-free zones under current state law. And at least one Republican lawmaker has said since the shooting, he thinks gun-free zones should not be public policy in Florida.

On the other side, Democrats are hoping to tighten gun laws aiming to prevent people on federal watch lists from being able to purchase guns. But their first efforts have already failed in the state’s Republican-held legislature. Democrat Darren Soto, a senator from Orlando, says they’re not giving up.

DARREN SOTO: Certainly, it’s not going to be an easy vote to win, but we put forward something, I believe, that’s narrowly tailored for both parties to get behind.

ROTT: It’s likely that some gun-related laws will pass in Florida in the coming months. But instead of tightening regulations like Soto aims to do, history shows lawmakers will probably loosen them. Nathan Rott, NPR News.

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