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Giffords Law Center Gun Law Trendwatch: April 6, 2021

A Roundup and Analysis of the Latest State Firearm Legislation

Preemption Laws Stop Local Governments from Preventing Gun Violence in their Own Communities. Boulder is a Stark Example. 

Every other week during the state legislative cycle, Gun Law Trendwatch breaks down trends in the gun violence prevention universe. We take an in-depth look at a topic of particular interest to legislators and advocates—this week it’s preemption laws that stand in the way of gun violence prevention—and provide updates on significant gun safety and gun lobby bills as they move through state legislatures.

State of the States

Preemption Laws

On March 22, a gunman killed nine shoppers and a police officer at the King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, using an assault pistol designed to fire large numbers of rounds with precision in a matter of seconds. Tragically, the Denver suburbs have been the home of several other high-profile mass shootings, including Columbine High School in 1999 (13 students and a teacher murdered) and the Aurora Century 16 movie theater shooting in 2012 (12 people killed).

70%
LOWER likelihood of mass shooting deaths
While the federal assault weapons ban was in effect, mass shooting fatalities were 70% less likely to occur.

Source

Charles DiMaggio et al., “Changes in US Mass Shooting Deaths Associated with the 1994–2004 Federal Assault Weapons Ban: Analysis of Open–source Data,” Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery 86, no. 1 (2019): 11–19.

When the federal assault weapons ban was in effect from 1994 to 2004, fatalities from mass shootings fell by 70%. In 2018, after witnessing the devastating toll of mass shootings in other communities, the City of Boulder adopted a ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. Despite the city’s efforts, the perpetrator of the recent massacre in Boulder used an assault-style rifle and stabilizing arm brace, which contributed to making the shooting the third deadliest in Colorado since 1993. 

The Colorado Constitution grants cities like Boulder the power to make relevant health and safety policies addressing the unique issues and dangers facing their communities. Although few things are as important to public safety as firearms policy, the gun industry has encouraged lawmakers to strip local governments of the freedom to make local gun safety laws. When a higher form of government takes regulatory power away from a lower level of government—a process known as preemption—lawmakers create dangerous gaps between the people passing laws and those living with them every day.

Although the City of Boulder argued that Colorado law allows it to restrict assault weapons and large-capacity magazines based on local concerns, less than two weeks before the massacre at King Soopers, a judge ruled in favor of NRA-supported plaintiffs who claimed that Boulder’s laws were preempted by state law. As a result, Boulder’s law was not in effect when the shooting occurred. 

Other Laws Policies 

Preemption of Local Laws

Federal and state preemption laws threaten local firearm regulations and can prevent local officials from protecting their communities against gun violence.

Preemption has been a powerful weapon wielded by gun advocates and the firearms industry for years. In fact, 43 states now broadly prohibit some or all local firearm safety regulations. Nonetheless, courageous local lawmakers continue to attempt to pass laws needed to keep their residents safe in order to test the limits of firearm preemption statutes. Undeterred, gun safety opponents have begun amending their preemption laws in extreme ways to make officials criminally liable for passing local gun safety ordinances (Kentucky) and liable for damages and attorney’s fees in lawsuits over the preemption law (Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Mississippi). Arizona also allows local officials to be removed from office and forced to pay expensive fines.  

This year, at least 21 states have bills pending to create or expand firearms preemption. Bills in Mississippi, South Carolina, and West Virginia would make legislators criminally liable for introducing local firearms legislation. Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Tennessee have bills pending that would make legislators responsible for hefty fines, attorney’s fees, damages, and defense costs associated with a preemption lawsuit. 

Unfortunately, some of these bills are moving through their state legislatures. Mississippi HB 634, which makes a local official civilly and criminally liable if they are found to have passed a local gun law, has passed both chambers and is in concurrence. West Virginia SJR 1, which would amend the state constitution to preempt local gun safety laws, passed its first committee. Bills that would make it harder for local governments to prevent gun violence are moving in 11 additional states: Iowa, Oklahoma, Florida, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Wyoming. 

The tragedy in Boulder illuminated the potential real-life consequences of preemption laws and the legal challenges that these laws enable. Fortunately, we know the antidote to these dangerous laws: voting. Colorado gun safety champions, many of whom were elected when the state legislature flipped in 2018, will likely turn to repealing or limiting the state’s firearm preemption statute in the future. Other state legislators who put public safety over gun lobby politics should do the same.

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SPOTLIGHT

ANNUAL
GUN LAW SCORECARD

The data is clear: states with stronger gun laws have less gun violence. See how your state compares in our annual ranking.

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Gun Safety Spotlight

Oregon and Delaware Introduce Permit-to-Purchase Bills While Iowa Moves in the Opposite Direction.

Laws that require gun owners to obtain a permit to purchase or own firearms are effective at reducing gun violence and trafficking. For example, when Connecticut passed its permit-to-purchase law, its firearm homicide rate decreased by 40% and its firearm suicide rate decreased by 15%. Conversely, when Missouri repealed its law, its firearm homicide rate increased by 25% and firearm suicide rate increased by 16%.

Permitting laws also reduce gun trafficking, as states with strong licensing laws are associated with 76% lower rates of guns exported to people who commit crimes. Not only are these laws effective; they’re also popular. A 2019 survey found that 77% of Americans, including 68% of gun owners, support permit-to-purchase laws. 

Concerted efforts are underway in Delaware (SB 3) and Oregon (SB 604) to enact this critical policy. Unfortunately, legislators in Iowa who are pandering to gun extremists have sent a bill to the governor that would repeal the state’s handgun permit-to-purchase law (HB 756). Should these bills pass, residents of Delaware and Oregon will be safer from gun violence while their fellow Americans in Iowa will be at greater risk. This patchwork system of state gun laws ultimately endangers all Americans. It’s long past time for comprehensive reform.

Gun Lobby Extremism

Bill Would Allow Teachers in Idaho to Secretly Carry Hidden Loaded Guns. Parents Will Never Know.

If you live in Idaho, a bill would allow your children’s teacher to carry a loaded gun in the classroom without your consent—or even your knowledge. HB 89 would allow school employees with only eight hours of safety training to secretly carry hidden, loaded guns in schools. 

Rather than protect students from active shooter incidents, teachers carrying guns in schools are more likely to accidentally fire them or use them to threaten harm. In 2018, a California teacher who was also a reserve police officer unintentionally fired his gun into the ceiling during class. That same day in Virginia, a school resource officer mistakenly discharged his firearm during classes at a middle school. Also that week, a Michigan county sheriff forgot his gun in a bathroom of a junior high school. 

The solution to gun violence in schools is not introducing more guns, but to pass meaningful and comprehensive laws that prevent people at high risk of committing violence from accessing firearms. 

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Bills in Motion

In the first few months of 2021, courageous state legislators have introduced bills to strengthen background check requirements, fund proven community violence intervention programs, improve domestic violence prohibitions, and enact or strengthen extreme risk protection order laws in 31 states and the District of Columbia. Meanwhile, the gun lobby continues to push its dangerous guns in schools and permitless carry bills in dozens of states. We’re committed to helping state legislatures enact laws that will make our communities safer and push back against gun lobby legislation that will bring more guns to more places.

Gun Safety Bills

  • BACKGROUND CHECKS: Texas HB 118 has a hearing 4/8. Legislation to strengthen or enact background checks is pending in at least 21 states.
  • COMMUNITY VIOLENCE: Florida SB 836 passed a committee. Tennessee HB 994 has a hearing 4/7. Currently, at least 15 states and the District of Columbia have bills pending that would allocate or protect funding for evidence-based violence prevention programs.
  • DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: Virginia HB 1992 was returned to the house with recommendations from the governor. Oregon SB 823 had a hearing 4/1. Legislation to strengthen domestic violence laws is pending in at least 18 states and the District of Columbia. 
  • EXTREME RISK PROTECTION ORDER: Bills to enact or strengthen extreme risk protection order laws are pending in at least 18 states.

Gun Lobby Bills

  • GUNS IN SCHOOLS: North Dakota HB 1339 was enacted 4/1. Arkansas SB 161 passed both chambers. Texas HB 1788 passed a committee and HB 781 has a hearing 4/8. Dangerous bills to allow guns in school or on campus are pending in at least 28 states.
  • PERMITLESS CARRY: Iowa HB 756 was enacted 4/2. Tennessee SB 765 was sent to the governor and HB 1388 has a hearing 4/7. Texas HB 1911 and HB 1927 each passed a committee. There are reckless permitless carry bills pending in at least 15 states.
  • STAND YOUR GROUND: Tennessee HB 50 passed concurrence and was sent to the governor. Oklahoma SB 560 and SB 925 each passed a house committee and HB 1662 has a hearing 4/6. New Hampshire HB 197 has a hearing 4/6. There are Stand Your Ground laws pending in at least 16 states.

HERE TO HELP

Interested in partnering with us to draft, enact, or implement lifesaving gun safety legislation in your community? Our attorneys provide free assistance to lawmakers, public officials, and advocates working toward solutions to the gun violence crisis.

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