Post-Sandy Hook, South Dakota and Georgia move to protect schools with guns

As the gun-control debate continues, Georgia, South Dakota, Colorado, and New York have emerged as bellwethers on how the nation is beginning to stand up to gun violence.

Brennan Linsley/AP
Colorado State Sen. Greg Brophy speaks about his concern that new gun laws would hurt the local economy, during debate on gun control bills before the Colorado legislature. Democrats are on the cusp of advancing gun-control proposals in a state balancing a history of heartbreaking shootings with a Western heritage in which gun ownership is treasured by many.

As the post-Sandy Hook gun-control debate continues, states such as Georgia, South Dakota, Colorado, and New York have emerged as bellwethers on how the nation is beginning to stand up to gun violence.

A day after the Georgia legislature ended bans on guns in bars, churches, and college classrooms, South Dakota passed the first law in the United States aimed expressly at allowing school districts to arm teachers.

Guns are not outlawed in schools in 18 states and some school districts do have some armed teachers, but the vast majority of districts have not supported teacher-carry to this point.

The extent to which South Dakota teachers take advantage of what will become a tough new licensing program is unclear. And the issue is electrified by politics, as over a thousand gun laws, divided between expansion and contraction of gun laws, have emerged in state houses across the country since the massacre of 20 children and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14.

Indeed, as a federal gun-control package has been whittled down in the Senate, the real impact of Newtown is likely to be felt state to state, especially given some of the sweeping reforms that have already passed. The big question is what these legislative moves suggest about public support for more antiviolence gun controls, which have in the past spiked and then petered out after past mass shootings.

"We know that attention to these issues moves on relatively quickly," says Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.

Recognizing that need for urgency, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a tough new gun-control law into effect in New York. Colorado legislators are set to vote Monday on arguably the most meaningful bellwether gun-control package, one that would crimp the ability of Coloradoans to own certain types of ammunition magazines and institute universal background checks, closing the so-called gun show loophole.

Colorado's stature as a traditional pioneer state with a progressive bent has made the outcome of that legislation especially interesting to national observers, as it may augur how similar proposals fare in other western states. Colorado has also been uniquely affected by gun violence at Columbine High School in 1999 and last year's massacre in an Aurora movie theater.

But so far, many local governments have taken the opposite lesson from the Sandy Hook massacre. Instead of limiting the right to own weapons, their thinking goes, it's instead a call to arms.

To many Americans, "gun rights has become a civil rights movement, so it's not just purely strategic politics," says Jennifer Carlson, a gun culture expert at the University of Toronto.

Communities in Idaho, Maine, and Georgia are all pondering whether to make gun ownership mandatory for residents, primarily to make up for emergency call time delays from distant police or sheriff departments.

South Dakota's armed teacher law is directly tied to what happened at Sandy Hook, as well as concerns about shootings in distant, rural communities. According to the law, school boards are under no obligation to adopt the training regimen, but have to address the issue if 5 percent of registered voters sign a petition urging them to take up the topic.

Lawmakers in Georgia, meanwhile, had been working since before Sandy Hook to end gun-carry bans in bars, churches, and college campuses. The measure passed the House and is expected to prevail in the Senate as well. It's not clear whether Gov. Nathan Deal would sign the law or let it become law without his signature.

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