By Mark Follman
An unthinkable massacre ignites an intense national debate. Then, Congress does nothing. The powerful gun lobby wins again. End of story.
So went the popular narrative last spring with the collapse of gun control legislation on Capitol Hill. Meanwhile, scores of people have been wounded or killed in five new mass shootings and other gun rampages around the country, and an estimated 30,000 have been killed by firearms—including hundreds of young children, as documented in our latest investigation.
But no, the gun lobby did not “win.” The real action after Newtown was not in the nation’s capital—it was in most statehouses around the country, where no fewer than 114 bills were signed into law, aiming in both political directions. America has warred over its deep-rooted gun culture on and off for decades, and Newtown set off a major mobilization on both sides.
Determining how that battle changed the terrain in 2013 isn’t just a matter of the total number of laws passed (some of which contain multiple measures), but also the types of activity and swathes of population they affect. Unsurprisingly, the redder states mostly continued to deregulate firearms, while bluer coastal states—and a more politically split Colorado—moved aggressively to tighten restrictions.
Based on data from the nonpartisan Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which tracks state legislation closely, here’s how the barrage of new measures has altered Americans’ ability to legally bear arms:
Strengthening gun regulations:
- 41 new laws in 22 states made it harder for people to own guns, carry them in public, and enhanced the government’s ability to track guns.
- Additionally, 15 laws in 15 states made it harder for people with serious mental health problems to possess guns—a major factor among mass shooters, as our ongoing investigation has shown.
- Together, these laws affect more than 189 million people.
The most sweeping restrictions came in Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, and New York, including background checks for gun buyers and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Although tracking gun ownership is anathema to the National Rifle Association and its allies, 18 states and the District of Columbia boosted their capabilities to do so: New measures included requiring lost or stolen firearms to be reported (Maryland, New York) and criminalizing the tampering with manufacturers’ identification marks on firearms (Rhode Island). From Florida to Colorado to Washington state, lawmakers required more rigorous reporting of mental health records to the FBI’s criminal background check system and imposed greater restrictions on the mentally ill.