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Tucson shooting spotlights US shift on gun control

Since the Tucson shooting on Jan. 8, federal gun control advocates have made little headway and many states are considering expanding gun rights. Why?

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Members of Congress seeking to increase gun control are similarly aiming at niche issues. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D) of New York wants to ban extended magazines – like the ones used in the Tucson shooting. Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York wants the federal background-check database to include people rejected by the military for drug use – a measure that would have prevented Tucson suspect Jared Lee Loughner from buying a gun legally.

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But larger gun-control priorities have mostly been abandoned. President Obama came into office promising to restore the assault-weapons ban. He has instead signed two gun-rights laws, allowing licensed guns on Amtrak trains and in national parks.

"You have to pick your fights, and I think [Obama] just decided [gun control] was a losing battle," Rep. James Moran (D) of Virginia told The Hill newspaper recently.

The Arizona shootings provided no boost for gun-control advocates. Only 1 in 5 Americans believes stricter gun laws could have prevented the shooting, Gallup reported.

At the state level, gun laws are expanding. For instance:

•Bills have been filed in the Texas Legislature to allow college students and professors to carry guns on campus.

Florida state Rep. Jose Diaz (R) proposed a bill that would waive roadblocks for Floridians buying guns in Georgia and Alabama. Also in Florida, Republican lawmakers filed a bill that would prohibit doctors and their staff from asking patients if they own guns.

•In Wisconsin, momentum is building under newly elected Republican Gov. Scott Walker to end the state's ban on concealed weapons. Wisconsin, Illinois, and the District of Columbia are the only states and federal jurisdictions that currently have such a ban.

•Arizona's pro-gun legislature is also expected to take up debate on two bills filed before the Tucson shooting, including one that would allow gun owners to display a weapon in self-defense.

•In Virginia, the legislature is on track to address a number of gun-rights bills, including a proposal to end Sunday hunting bans and a reciprocity law that would force the state to honor concealed-carry permits from other states.

Indeed, state expansion of gun-carry rights has become the norm. The number of states that automatically issue concealed-weapons permits after a background check has gone from nine in 1980 to 37 today. Twenty-four states allow people to openly carry guns, 11 of which require no permit to do so. And 25 states now have "castle doctrine" laws that protect homeowners from the legal ramifications of shooting intruders on their property.

"The pro-gun, pro-Second Amendment [set] has won the day in the court of public opinion," says Mr. Franklin. "There's zero evidence, at this point, that shootings and mass killings have had any real effect on that."

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has played its part in promoting gun rights. Observers say it has consistently stoked fears among its members that Democratic administrations intend to curtail Second Amendment rights. President Wayne LaPierre famously said at a Phoenix convention in 2009, "The people with the guns make the rules."

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