The New York Times published an interesting article yesterday detailing the results of the approximately 1500 new gun-related bills that have been proposed in states in the past twelve months, or as the Times measures it, “since Newtown.” Only 109 such bills were signed into law. While that might not seem like many, it’s slightly higher than the average 5% chance of a bill has of becoming law.
Aside from being a good example of why graphic-friendly, statistical-based news articles just work better online, it’s a pretty even-handed piece for the Times. The article divides the legislation into two camps: laws that “tighten” gun restrictions and those that “loosen” them. However, like a cartographer flatening a globe into a map, the result of separating legislation into two simple categories can be a bit distorting.
Though the only reference the Times makes is Newtown, I think the tapestry of state legislation reveals two motivations, which are not at odds, but are working simultaneously. First, there is the post-Sandy Hook reaction. It is revealed in the laws of at least 15 states which made it harder for the mentally ill to obtain handguns, either by increasing some form of reporting requirements from the mental health community, or by releasing mental health records into criminal databases, or both. Also, the 6 states that passed so-called “assault” weapons laws probably did so largely in response to Sandy Hook.
The second motivation is likely a longer trend of protection of lawful gun ownership. These laws include authorizing more offices to issue permits, making handgun permit records confidential, and allowing concealed firearms in more locations. Ever since District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), in which the Supreme Court definitively held that the second amendment conveyed a personal right to use of a firearm for lawful purposes, and its 2010 sibling, McDonnell v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 3025 (2010), voters have become more aware the breadth of anti-gun legislation. Add to this the Obama administration’s use of agencies as disparate as the EPA and OSHA to effectively curtail the availability of guns and ammunition, and voters collectively started to take notice.
The Times suggests a certain inconsistency in the data. But states are the laboratory of ideas, and most labs have many experiments running at the same time.