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With almost all gun legislation a nonstarter on a divided Capitol Hill, states are charting wildly divergent paths.
Some states are doing everything they can to restrict access to certain weapons. Others are doing everything they can to make guns as accessible as possible without much government oversight.
On the restriction side, Washington on Tuesday became the 10th state to impose an assault-weapons ban, signaling new movement among states to step in where the federal government has failed. The national assault-weapons ban, which was in place for 10 years, lapsed in 2004.
The new Washington state law would ban the distribution, sale, manufacture or importation to the state of scores of specific styles of weapons, including semi-automatic versions of the AK-47 and AR-15. It would not seek to take those rifles from people who already have them. And it has exceptions for people who work in law enforcement and the military.
The measure signed by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, is already the subject of a lawsuit, and challenges to a similar ban in Illinois are working their way through the state and federal court systems.
In addition to the assault-weapons ban, Inslee signed laws to impose a 10-day waiting period for all gun purchases and to enable consumers to sue gun manufacturers.
CNN’s Jack Forrest and Paradise Afshar note that the votes for the assault-weapons ban in Washington’s legislature fell mostly along party lines. Read their full report.
I’ll add that the 10 states with assault-weapons bans are all reliably blue in federal elections. They are focused in the West – California, Washington and Hawaii – and the Northeast – Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland and Delaware. Illinois rounds out the assault-weapons ban state map.
Now for the movement in the other direction
Also on Tuesday, Nebraska joined the growing majority of states moving in the opposite direction, to open much easier access to firearms. Republican Gov. Jim Pillen signed Nebraska’s permitless concealed carry bill into law.
A similar law was enacted by Florida earlier in April, which means 27 states now generally don’t require a permit to carry a concealed weapon publicly.
We’ve written before about these laws, which do not supersede federal background checks, but along with holes in the background check system can make it very easy for just about anyone to obtain and carry a weapon.
‘Wall of political realism’
Stephen Gutowski is a CNN analyst and founder of The Reload, a website that tries very hard to produce “sober, serious firearms reporting and analysis.” I asked Gutowski for his take on these diverging directions for US gun policy. He sent me an email in which he argued these opposing actions speak to the diametric opposition between Republicans and Democrats on the issue of guns.
But the two types of laws, he argued, are “both edging up against a wall of political realism.”
Gutowski: While permitless carry has been adopted by 27 states to this point and 10 have banned “assault weapons,” there are few states left where either policy is likely to be adopted over the next few years.
However, “assault weapon” ban proponents also have to deal with potential constitutional issues since the standard for reviewing gun laws adopted by the Supreme Court last year and its decision to remand a case upholding Maryland’s ban raise new questions about whether the prohibitions violate the Second Amendment. That’s another potential wall they may run up against which isn’t a concern for permitless carry proponents and it is likely part of the reason blue states like Colorado, New Mexico, and Michigan failed to pass a ban this year.
Courts are making federal gun policy
In the vacuum created by lack of federal policy and with such disparate state laws, the gun conversation is only going to get more heated – especially now that courts are primed to undo even gun policy that has bipartisan support.
A second federal court has now rejected the federal ban on bump stocks – the after-market parts that can turn a semi-automatic rifle like the AR-15 into a fully automatic weapon like those that are still illegal at the federal level.
The Trump administration used executive authority to ban bump stocks after the 2017 Las Vegas shooting – the deadliest mass shooting in US history – in which bump stocks were used to kill 58 and wounded more than 500.
Courts have also hit pause on the Biden administration’s attempt to stop the sale of assemble-at-home ghost guns.
Defining active shooter and mass shooting
The FBI on Wednesday released a new report on a rise in “active shooter” incidents in recent years. There were 50 such emergencies in 2022, fewer than in 2021, but still a large increase over previous years. The active shooter incidents in 2022 caused 313 casualties, including 100 people killed.
The FBI defines these active shooter situations as “one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.”
It’s a much different metric than what’s used by CNN and the Gun Violence Archive, which define a “mass shooting” as one that injured or killed four or more people, not including the shooter. Gun Violence Archive documented 646 mass shootings in 2022.
Another way to measure gun violence is through gun violence deaths, which include suicides. Gun Violence Archive documented 44,349 gun violence deaths in 2022.
From the What Matters archive
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