Laws increasing gun restrictions passed in record numbers across the country in 2018, more than tripling the number of such measures adopted in 2017 and signaling a shift in attitudes toward gun control in the wake of recent mass shootings, according to the advocacy group Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Bills strengthening gun restrictions were signed into law in 26 states and the District of Columbia this year, with 75 new measures contained in 67 laws, according to the year-end report released this month. That’s a jump from the 22 gun control measures counted in 2017.
At least 277 laws tightening gun-related restrictions have been signed into law, in nearly every state, since the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., according to Giffords' yearly counts. But after that shooting, waves of gun-rights bills were passed, too-- the number surpassing bills restricting access to firearms.
This year marked a change, the new report indicated, with more gun-control laws enacted.
“After the deadliest mass shooting in American history late last year in Las Vegas and the Parkland massacre in February, the ground has finally shifted,” the report declared.
The National Rifle Association told The New York Times that 200 gun-control bills had been rejected in 2018 but did not provide data to back up the claim; NRA data did show that more gun-control than gun-rights bills were passed this year, according to the Times report.
The Giffords’ report is another indication that the February Parkland, Fla. shooting, where 17 were killed in a high school, created new momentum for the gun-control movement. The state-level legislative successes for gun-control supporters add to national victories in November by U.S. House candidates supporting “gun-sense” measures or campaigning on gun control.
It also suggests that one of the strategies advocated by gun-control supporters could pay off: seeking to strengthen gun-control laws at the state level even while Congress has not acted on the topic.
The Giffords Law Center report focused on gun laws it termed “lifesaving,” dealing with several broad categories including background checks, concealed carry, and domestic violence. It also included bills that added restrictions on who can purchase or possess firearms, passed in five states; created a minimum age of 21 for gun purchases, passed in four states; and restricted large-capacity magazines, passed in two states and D.C.
Pennsylvania made the list thanks to its domestic violence law aimed at keeping abusers from possessing firearms. Across the river, New Jersey passed one of the most robust gun control packages of any state, with eight new laws. Vermont passed a sweeping package of restrictive laws too.
“2019 brings renewed hope for vigorous federal and state gun violence prevention efforts,” the report read.
Eleven states passed domestic violence-related bills and eight plus D.C. enacted extreme risk protection order laws. Both measures aim to keep people with a history of abuse or high risk of hurting others from possessing firearms. Nine states banned or restricted bump stocks or trigger activators, which allow semiautomatic rifles to fire more quickly, before the Trump administration moved to ban them nationally this month.
A few states passed unique measures: Oregon imposed regulations on all firearms dealers. Vermont banned possession of guns in K-12 school buildings and buses, except in certain circumstances. New Jersey will fund a gun violence research center at Rutgers University. In a sweeping ballot initiative passed by voters, Washington state prohibited people from procuring firearms without proof of safety training.
The report also logged 10 laws loosening gun regulations, though it counted only measures the group defined as significant -- leaving out bills that, for instance, allowed the carry of guns on snowmobiles, exempted law enforcement officers from restrictions on carrying firearms, or changed a penalty for a gun-related crime.
An Inquirer analysis of a September Associated Press report counted 47 bills that were pro-gun rights or neutral, many of them laws that would affect only a small subset of the population. That report, using much broader criteria, tallied 119 gun-related bills passed by states in 2018.
Democrats have vowed to bring up a background-check bill in the new year, making it one of their top priorities when they gain control of the House, but passing any such bill in the Republican-controlled Senate is a long shot.