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Mass Shootings Do Little to Change State Gun Laws

Joaquin Sapien
ProPublica / News Analysis
Published: Friday 4 January 2013
In fact, several states have made it easier to buy more guns and take them to more places.
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Following the mass shooting in Connecticut, the Obama administration and lawmakers around the country have promised to re-examine gun control in America.

ProPublica decided to take a look at what's happened legislatively in states where some of the worst shootings in recent U.S. history have occurred to see what effect, if any, those events had on gun laws.

We found that while legislators in Virginia, Alabama, Arizona, New York, Texas and Colorado sometimes contemplated tightening rules after rampage shootings, few measures gained passage. In fact, several states have made it easier to buy more guns and take them to more places.

Here's a rundown of what's happened in each of those states:

Virginia: After 23-year-old Virginia Tech student Seung Hui Cho killed 32 students and faculty members at the university in April 2007, then-Gov. Tim Kaine assigned a blue-ribbon task force to examine gun policies in the state. The task force made dozens of recommendations that, among other things, suggested that the state intensify background checks for gun purchasers, and ban firearm possession on college campuses. None of the recommendations became law.

The most significant change in Virginia came two weeks after the shooting when Kaine signed an executive order requiring the names of all people involuntarily committed to mental health facilities to be provided to a federal database called the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. Licensed gun dealers are supposed to check the database before they sell anyone a gun.

President George W. Bush subsequently signed federal legislation requiring all states to submit their mental health records to NICS, but to gain the support of the NRA, Congress agreed to two concessions. It made changes to the way the government defined who was "mentally defective," excluding people, for example, who had been "fully released or discharged" from mandatory treatment. The law also gave mentally ill people an avenue for restoring their gun rights if they could prove to a court that they had been rehabilitated. After the law passed, the NRA pushed state lawmakers to limit roadblocks for people applying to regain their rights.

Virginia is particularly open to restoring peoples' gun rights. A 2011 New York Times investigation found that the restoration process in the state allowed some people to regain access to guns simply by writing a letter to the state. Others were permitted to carry guns just weeks or months after being hospitalized for psychiatric treatment.

This past year the Virginia state legislature repealed a law that had barred people from buying more than one handgun per month — a law put in place because so many guns purchased in Virginia were later used in crimes committed in states with more restrictions.

The legislature also has made several changes to its gun permitting process. In March, the state eliminated municipalities' ability to require fingerprints as part of a concealed weapon permit application. The state used to require gun owners to undergo training with a certified instructor in order to get permits, but in 2009 it adopted a law allowing people to take an hour-long online test instead. Since Virginia adopted the law, the number of concealed handgun permits the state has issued increased dramatically and many of the permits were issued to people who live in other states where Virginia permits are accepted.

In 2010, Virginia became one of five states to allow permit holders to carry concealed and loaded weapons into bars and restaurants.

Alabama: In Alabama, gun control advocates have won two small legislative victories since March 2009, when 28-year-old sausage plant worker Michael McLendon went on a three-town shooting spree, killing 10 people.

In 2011, the state made it illegal for people to buy weapons for someone else who doesn't have permission to carry one or to provide false information about their identity to a licensed gun dealer. The law was intended to help crack down on gun trafficking. (According to data compiled by non-profit Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the state had the fifth highest rate of crime gun exports in 2009.)

After Florida teen Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in February 2012, the Alabama state legislature made a slight revision to its version of a law known as the "castle doctrine," which is meant to allow property owners to protect their homes against intruders. Alabama changed its law so that a shooter would only be entitled to civil immunity for shooting a trespasser if the property owner reacted "reasonably."

Arizona: After former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was shot in the head in a hail of bullets that killed six and wounded 13, a bill was introduced in the state legislature to limit gun magazines to 10 bullets, but the bill failed in the face of pressure from the gun lobby. A similar bill was proposed in Connecticut last year; it didn't pass either.

In March 2012, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill with the opposite effect, forbidding the Arizona Game and Fish Commission from limiting magazine capacity for any gun approved for hunting.

According to rankings assembled by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Arizona is "49 out of 50 — having enacted some of the weakest gun violence prevention laws in the country."

Arizona doesn't require a license to carry a concealed firearm in public, nor does it limit the number of firearms that someone can buy at once.

New York: After a mass shooting at an immigration services center in Binghamton, N.Y., where 13 people were killed and four were wounded, the state assembly entertained several bills on gun control. None passed. One bill would have given police more control over records related to firearm sales. Another would have banned 50-caliber weapons and allowed people to turn them into the state in exchange for fair market value.

Perhaps the most controversial bill in the package would have required the use of a technology called microstamping on all bullets sold in the state.

Using this technology, a serial number could be stamped on bullet casings so they could be traced back to a particular gun. The gun industry argued that the technology would be too expensive and was still unproven. Some gun manufacturers were so upset by it that they threatened to leave the state. The bill passed the Assembly in June, but the Senate did not vote on it.

In January 2012, the legislature repealed a law that previously required handgun manufacturers and dealers to share information about bullet casings and ballistics with the state. Critics of the law said the database used to maintain the information cost too much and didn't help police.

Texas: There's been no effort to tighten gun control in Texas since Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, 39, killed 13 and wounded 32 at a military processing center at Fort Hood in 2009.

In 2011, legislators passed two bills that gave gun carriers greater freedom to take their weapons to more places. One bill restricted employers from prohibiting guns from vehicles in parking areas and another allowed foster parents to carry handguns while transporting their foster children, as long as they are licensed carriers.

Colorado: Colorado's state legislature has not convened since Aurora graduate student James Eagan Holmes, 24, killed 12 and wounded 58 in a movie theater in July. At the time, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper suggested that families of victims needed time to grieve before a discussion on gun control could begin in the state.

After the Connecticut shooting, Hickenlooper said that "the time is right" for the state to consider stronger gun control legislation. He has introduced a measure to strengthen background checks for gun buyers.

Author pic
ABOUT Joaquin Sapien

Joaquin Sapien has focused on environmental issues since he joined ProPublica in May 2008. In 2009 he was part of a team whose work on natural gas drilling won the Society of Professional Journalists award for online non-deadline investigative reporting. From 2005 until 2008 he was a reporter for the Center for Public Integrity, where he led a year-long investigative project, “Superfund’s Toxic Legacy,” which received the 2007 Society of Professional Journalists award for non-deadline online reporting. Before joining CPI, Sapien wrote for Environmental Media Services.

The coroner in Sandy Hook

The coroner in Sandy Hook initially said that the wounds that he examined were 'long gun' wounds. "Assault" rifles are long guns as opposed to pistols. The coroner's story changed after police found an "assault" rifle in the trunk of the alleged perpetrator's car and only pistols (4 of them) inside the school. The coroner revised his statement to match the found evidence. So if you take the coroner's word the Sandy Hook incident had nothing to do with "assault" rifles unless you include the ones on the scene carried by police. The police carry true assault rifles (those capable of automatic fire). If the distinction between a semiautomatic and automatic rifle is still unclear to you after the last 4 months of media blitz then consult Wikipedia, or better yet, ask a Vet.

I've seen some skewed stats -

I've seen some skewed stats - I'd like to give a few. When something like Sandy Hook happens, it can be taken out of context on a national level.

There are over 98,000 elementary schools in the US. This shooting occurred in 1/1000th of 1% of them. About 15,000 killings with guns are committed each year in the US (excluding suicides), which is about 1/250th of 1% of the US population. Maybe people feel these numbers are too high. Decide based upon this.

For all of the fervor about guns, would anyone here find it interesting to know that back in the early 1970s, JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, published some shocking data about the effects of violence on TV with pre-adolescent children. They don't have defenses against fantasy images at that age. I have read into this topic further, to find that 10-15 years after TV is introduced in a given nation, the homicide rate doubles. These are the kids who are affected by violence on TV who then grow up and commit murders.

WOULD ANYONE HERE FIND THAT INTERESTING? The nationwide homicide rate doubles with TV. Now, we have highly gory and violent video games - played by kids... What does that do? And like poster Brad Roon mentioned, there are the things prescription drugs do these days... Over 400,000 prescription drug overdoses a year. When a person comes off of antidepressants, they can go quite loopy. I'll be reading more into that next, thanks, brad

p.s. Trust in govt is at an all-time low these days. It's been hovering around 90% disapproval for the past decade. That's really bad. Obama supports indefinite detention in foreign military prisons, torture, no rights, no representation. He has his own assassination program with no judicial oversight. He signed warrantless wiretapping back in until at least 2017. He keeps this country in a permanent state of GWOT, and conducts his own private wars abroad. He recently secretly banned 1 million M-1 rifles gifted to the US from South Korea, and he is very keen about the up-and-coming congressional vote on the UN Small Arms Treaty, which means world govt and law, not the constitution.

George Washington gave 2 reasons for the 2nd amendment. 1) defend against foreign nationals, and 2) to overthrow your own govt. Did you know Switzerland has not been attacked in 300 years? Not even by Hitler. For that amount of time, all young adults have spent time in the military, and they keep their rifles when they go home. In 1939, the USSR had to sign an armistice with Finland, because they all had guns. But after confiscating all guns and ammo in the Western USSR, Joe Stalin killed over 30 million civilians. We have a trust issue in the US, and I think it is very significant to Americans today. We do not trust our govt - we do not trust our lawmakers or their intentions. We also might not trust all these new domestic detention camps, or the domestic use of US military, or the destruction of the US economy (at its source).
Cheers, Mark

Ron - at the same time that

Ron - at the same time that Sandy Hook, or the Aurora theater, or the Columbine shootings were happening, there were thousands of guns, legally owned and safely kept without endangering ANYONE. They likely never will, unless stolen by a criminal. There is one exception that should scare you very much so i'll repeat this:

BE VERY SCARED ABOUT GUN VIOLENCE. Why? Because every incident i have been able to track down from the Texas Tower in '66 shows that the users were on prescription pharmaceutical psychotropic drugs. Drugs whose adverse reactions include things like delusions, aggressiveness, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts (by cop?) and way more.

The issue IS NOT GUN CONTROL it is about stopping these drugs because they literally have zero science behind them in terms of rectifying mental health issues.

There is no biochemical test to prove a "mental health" issue. There is therefore no proof whatsoever that a solution has been caused/found by ANY drug.

At least heroin addicts and meth heads (while sometimes violent) don't tend to walk into a mall, theater, or school and do as much damage as they can.

And ask yourself Ron in NM, where did that unemployed Aurora shooter get the approx sixty thousand bucks or so it costs to buy all that restricted protective gear, that bomb-making material, equipment, and training, that armory, and last - why did he warn people about the apartment if he just wanted to kill as many people as possible? Because it is scarier to mention how diabolical this guy was and how anyone could (at least they pretend) do something parallel or similar. They can't.

It is NOT guns as guns don't decide society pisssses them off and decide to take it's people to the mall and kill everyone. No gun has ever done that. It is ineffective solutions trying to (make a profit) restore balance in an insane society which causes INTENSE anger and frustration. Why this means kids are the target only makes sense when one looks at who is armed and who isn't.

If you want to go out with a bang, you'd get a higher body count by attacking people that were basically defenseless than say an army base at the firing range, or a police station, or an NRA group meeting or training session.

If gun control were effective, Chicago, with the strictest gun laws in the country would have a low gun/murder rate. It has the highest. DC comes in real soon, and it too has strict gun control laws. Surprise. Gun control IS COUNTER PRODUCTIVE!

My personal cross to bear is my senator telling me that all Americans need to disarm, but she has a concealed carry permit.

Makes ME want to go out and buy a gun, since i don't have one.

Brad Roon, Thanks for the

Brad Roon, Thanks for the erudite update that "psychotropic drugs" are responsible for, as you assiduously imply, "every mass shooting since Texas Tower in '66." I suppose these "same" drugs were responsible for murderous Mongol hordes in the 12th century, Egyptian and Hittite atrocities that lasted for thousands of years before the birth of Jesus Christ. Persian, Sumerian, Greek and Roman barbarism two millenia+ ago and more. Spanish massacres of indigenous natives beginning with Columbus, enslavement of African-Americans for hundreds of years resulting in mass deaths and Jim Crow heinousness. Manifest Destiny carnage inflicted upon Native Americans. The ensanguined list of man's bloody footprints date back just a tad farther than the development of psychotropic drugs. Of course this list is just a infinitesimal sample of man's callous and hellish treatment of his fellow human beings. Its not drugs Brad...its PEOPLE! But why bother, go out and "man-up," get yourself armed and comfort yourself with cold steel. Buy a history book while you're at it.

Ron in NM You are an idiot.

Ron in NM
You are an idiot. To take away someones ability to defend themselves and their family is the same as telling them they are a victim. You sir, do not know how to investigate the facts, and the facts will show you that taking away guns increases crime. The idiots that published all the registered gun owners in New York made victims out of all the people that are not on the list. Violent crime in America is down 50 percent in the last 2 decades. The UK has more violent crime then we do and thier government took their guns away. Making laws against guns is as effective as making mass shootings illegal. Get real Ron. Think rationally with your head not with your heart. Everyone is upset about mass shootings but more restrictions on guns in not only not going to reduce violence, it will give nut cases better opportunities.

TOM GOODMAN, You need an

TOM GOODMAN, You need an assault rifle to "defend your family?" Tell me where you live so I'll be sure NEVER to go there. Also, you must be one helluva marksman.

Ron in NM You are an idiot.

Ron in NM
You are an idiot. To take away someones ability to defend themselves and their family is the same as telling them they are a victim. You sir, do not know how to investigate the facts, and the facts will show you that taking away guns increases crime. The idiots that published all the registered gun owners in New York made victims out of all the people that are not on the list. Violent crime in America is down 50 percent in the last 2 decades. The UK has more violent crime then we do and thier government took their guns away. Making laws against guns is as effective as making mass shootings illegal. Get real Ron. Think rationally with your head not with your heart. Everyone is upset about mass shootings but more restrictions on guns in not only not going to reduce violence, it will give nut cases better opportunities.

As a Virginian, I am glad our

As a Virginian, I am glad our state government allows us to carry concealed weapons.

To take nothing away from the

To take nothing away from the individual tradgedy and individual lives shattered by any violent crime, Per the FBI there were 323 murders commited with rifles of all sorts from single shots to semi autos in 2011. There where 496 murders commited with hammers in the same time frame. Texting and phoning while driving caused 3092 deaths in 2011. Where is the focus, priorities and sensibility in the current national dialog. If you wanted to save childrens lives..we should be having a national dialog of the same fervor over banning any cell phone use in a moving vehicle.

Might be worth noting that

Might be worth noting that this article mentions ONE mass shooting in each of several states which are populated by millions of people each. And in each, despite no change in gun laws, there have been no more atrocities.

It would be interesting to see what the crimes rates and firearms fatality rates have been in those states which have increased the availability of "concealed carry" and similar methods. My guess is that there has been no effect, but if both have dropped.....perhaps we should take a closer look.

Distressing news, overall. If

Distressing news, overall. If I was younger, I'd seriously consider emigration to a saner society. Will we ever be out from under the thumb of the gun makers and the gun lobby? Everyone's frightened for their own children, but the only solution they can see is to run to the gun shops and buy more assault-type weapons, ignoring the fact that they're just enlarging the pool and easing the access to tools for mass murder.

What's most depressing of all is that according to polls, 51% of Americans oppose bans on assault-type rifles, despite their devastating use in the mass slaughters of the past few years.

What kind of hunter or sportsman needs an assault weapon to bring down his prey? Those too drunk to aim correctly, so just want to spray their bullets in the general direction of the target animals and hope they succeed in killing it?

No, these weapons are bought largely for self-defense against...who? Our fellow citizens, on the one hand, and our national government,on the other.
Yet none of these private arsenals are secure from burglars or crazy friends or relatives. So the killing of innocents proceeds, and all that many Americans can think of is to rush to a gun show or gun dealer and buy more weapons for "defense."

Truly, our country is going insane, helped along by the NRA and all of our scared citizens who only feel secure if they have guns in their homes, particularly the rapid-firing kind.

Sad. But all I can do is continue to try to impress upon our legislators the need to stand up to the gun lobby and ban assault weapons for private use, just as Israel and so many other nations do.

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