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State gun control laws face uphill battles, study finds

An Associated Press review of bill activity in state legislatures before and after the Parkland, Fla., shooting shows that gun control legislation continues to strictly fall along party lines. This year, gun control bills are unlikely to pass in states beyond Florida.

April Burbank/The Burlington Free Press/AP
Three people protest gun violence on the Statehouse lawn in Montpelier, Vt., as a crowd of sportsmen and gun rights supporters held an event inside on March 13. Gun control bills are under consideration in both Vermont houses.

The campaign for tighter gun laws that inspired unprecedented student walkouts across the country faces an uphill climb in a majority of states, an Associated Press review of gun legislation found.

The AP survey of bill activity in state legislatures before and after the high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., provides a reality check on the ambitions of the "Enough is Enough" movement. It suggests votes like the one in Florida, where Republican lawmakers defied the National Rifle Association to pass new gun regulations, are unlikely to be repeated in many other states, at least not this year.

The student-led activism might yet lead to reforms in the future. But for now, the gun debate among most lawmakers still falls along predictable and largely partisan lines, with few exceptions, according to the analysis.

Because Congress shows no sign of acting, state legislatures dominate the national debate over guns. And major changes won't be easy to achieve in statehouses that are mostly controlled by the gun-friendly GOP.

Republicans have sponsored more than 80 percent of bills that would expand gun rights, while Democrats have introduced more than 90 percent of bills to limit them. The total number of gun-rights and gun-control bills identified by AP statehouse reporters is roughly equal – about 300 in each category.

Many of the Democratic gun-control bills have been introduced in legislatures dominated by Republicans, meaning they have little or no chance of passing.

"I think [the] public attitude has changed, but I don't see a big change here in the legislature," said Iowa state Rep. Art Staet (D), who sought unsuccessfully after the Parkland attack for the Iowa House to consider allowing courts to temporarily seize guns from dangerous individuals. "It's been very frustrating."

Iowa's GOP-controlled legislature, which last year approved a historic expansion of gun rights, has not held hearings on Democratic proposals to ban assault-style weapons, prohibit high-capacity magazines, or expand background checks. Instead, lawmakers have considered more pro-gun initiatives, including a bill to allow residents to carry handguns without obtaining permits and a resolution to enshrine the right to bear arms in the Iowa Constitution.

Iowa Gun Owners, a self-described "no-compromise gun lobby," has mobilized its members to pressure Republican lawmakers to hold firm.

"We're not going to back off any advocacy of expanding gun rights," said executive director Aaron Dorr.

After the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, public support for gun control reached the highest point since 1993, with two-thirds of Americans supporting stricter laws, according to a Gallup Poll released Wednesday.

Several corporations have also cut ties with the NRA, and some retailers have announced they will no longer sell rifles to anyone under 21. But the response in states has been more predictable.

Some Democratic-controlled states with restrictive gun and ammunition laws are moving to tighten them further. Aside from Florida, Republican-led states have mostly rejected new gun-control measures and instead are weighing whether to arm teachers and allow more guns in public places.

Several states are considering raising the age to buy rifles to 21 or debating "red flag" laws that would allow courts to order the temporary seizure of guns from people showing signs of mental distress or violence. But those are also running into resistance from pro-gun lawmakers.

In Idaho, lawmakers rejected a plan that would have prohibited convicted domestic abusers from owning guns, a measure that many states have adopted to enforce a similar federal ban.

In Utah, lawmakers defeated GOP House Speaker Greg Hughes's version of a red flag law, which would have allowed a family member or roommate to ask a court to temporarily remove firearms from someone who is acting dangerously.

"This, to me, is more of a gun-confiscation effort than it is a public-safety measure," Utah state Rep. Brian Greene (R) said.

Democratic lawmakers who control the Illinois legislature acted swiftly after the Parkland assault to approve a long-debated bill requiring state licensing for firearms dealers, a measure intended to increase oversight and eliminate straw sales. But Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the measure Tuesday, saying it would hurt small businesses and do little to stop violence.

NRA leader Wayne LaPierre said this week that his group would oppose all "failed gun control" plans, including proposals to raise the gun-buying age, require background checks on private gun sales, and transfers or ban semi-automatic rifles and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

Gun-control advocates see major progress in Florida's new law, which raises the rifle-buying age, creates a three-day waiting period to buy long guns, and allows law enforcement to seek a court order to prevent access to guns for people who show signs of violence or mental illness. It also allows some teachers to be armed and bans bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic rifles to mimic fully automatic ones.

Both sides are also watching traditionally gun-friendly Vermont, where the Republican governor recently abandoned his stance against new gun control laws after the arrest of an 18-year-old accused of plotting a school shooting. Hunters packed the Capitol this week to protest some curbs being considered by the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

The divide over how to respond has left young people like Alexia Medero wondering if change will ever come. The senior at Parkland High School outside Allentown, Penn., was one of hundreds who walked out of class Wednesday and attended a campus rally dubbed #parklandforparkland. After the event, she said she worries that the activism won't produce any real change.

"I'm afraid that with this shooting, like the others, people are going to mourn the victims and then a few months later forget about it," she said. "And nothing will happen."

This article was reported by The Associated Press.

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