After years of being pushed around by the pistol-packing gun lobby, many lawmakers on Capitol Hill and in state capitals are finally pushing back. They have successfully blocked efforts by the National Rifle Association to expand certain "conceal-and-carry" provisions. Now they must go the extra step and actually advance reasonable restrictions on firearms.
A string of defeats has disheartened gun-control advocates: in 2004, Congress failed to reauthorize the 10-year assault-weapons ban; in 2008, the Supreme Court overturned a ban on handguns in Washington, D.C.; in February, the Senate passed a measure that stripped D.C. gun regulations, including registration; and in May, both houses of Congress approved licensed gun owners bringing loaded firearms – hidden or carried openly – into national parks (including urban ones).
Last week the Senate found the courage to say, "Freeze!" It defeated, if narrowly, a bill that would have allowed people with permits to carry a concealed gun across state lines. Every state except two (Illinois and Wisconsin) allows gun owners to carry hidden weapons. The NRA argued that self-protection shouldn't stop at a state border.
But state conceal-and-carry laws differ vastly. Some wisely require background checks and training in gun-use and safety, and rule out people convicted of certain misdemeanors, including simple assault – but also extortion (Maryland) and stalking (Virginia).
Others grant conceal-and-carry permits to nonresidents (even in cases where the person did not qualify for a permit at home), or require nothing more than a background check. Alaska doesn't put any of these restrictions on folks who want to tote and hide.
Thankfully, the Senate stopped this bullet that would have essentially made the least restrictive state law the standard of the nation.
State legislators have also rediscovered their political bullet-proof vests as the gun lobby has pushed aggressively to extend conceal-and-carry to college campuses, taverns, and the workplace.
Since the mass fatal shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007, gun-rights advocates have made an all-out effort to allow students to carry hidden firearms – on the dubious theory that students would be better protected from mass killers. But 22 states saw the folly of this idea and defeated it, even in strong gun-rights states such as Louisiana, South Carolina, and Oklahoma.
Interestingly, those injured in the Virginia Tech shooting and those who lost loved ones have spoken most vigorously against guns on campus. Police would have no way to distinguish good guys from bad in a shooting spree, nor would students with guns necessarily be able to react quickly or accurately enough in such a situation, they argued.
Neither is it very smart to mix armed students with alcohol, which flows freely on many college campuses. The same logic applies to conceal-and-carry in taverns. Why is it that even two states – Tennessee and Arizona – approved this lethal cocktail of weapons and drinking establishments?
Meanwhile, 22 states have also said "no" to the NRA's effort to extend conceal-and-carry to the "workplace" – specifically, to a gun owner's car in the company parking lot. Offices can be tense places where emotions suddenly boil over – and thus no place for a readily available gun. (Thirteen states, however, have approved such workplace measures).
These victories show that some lawmakers have rediscovered reason when it comes to gun control. Will they find the resolve, for instance, to approve legislation in Congress that requires background checks even at gun shows? Forty percent of guns are sold at these shows and the vast majority of Americans approve the checks there. Yet the gun lobby strenuously resists.
In its landmark 2008 ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the right of individuals to bear arms. But it left the door open to regulation. Gun-control advocates don't seek to take away Second Amendment rights, as is so often and tirelessly alleged by the gun-rights side. Rather, what they want is restricting easy access to guns by criminals, the responsible use of guns, and the heading off of a quick resort to lethal firepower that makes the job of law enforcement so much harder.