Since the Parkland, Fla., high school massacre in February, gun-control advocates have said there is something different about the debate this year, an energy on the issue that is driving gun safety to the top of minds of suburban moms and younger, traditionally less engaged voters.
The effect on the November midterms is yet to be determined. But there is an early manifestation of this newfound political energy: Gun-control advocates had their best year in state legislatures in recent history.
Since the Florida shooting, the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence counts 55 new gun-control laws passing in 26 states. That is far more success than they normally see: in the number of laws, the variety of the laws passed and the bipartisan support. GOP governors in 15 states signed bills that gun-control advocates supported.
It is hard to overstate what a shift this is from last year. But after Americans lived through three of the deadliest mass shootings in its history, it was the pro-gun rights side that was on the defense in state legislatures in a way it has not been before.
“The politics have shifted dramatically,” said Robin Lloyd, the government affairs director at Giffords.
One of gun-control advocates’ biggest wins of the year came in Vermont, the wild West of gun laws (there basically weren’t any).
This spring, Republican Gov. Phil Scott signed a package of gun-control bills into law, including expanding background checks. And he specifically cited the recent spate of mass shootings as a reason.
“If we had not even tried to reduce the possibility of a tragedy here in Vermont like Parkland or Virginia Tech, Aurora, Las Vegas, Orlando, Sandy Hook, Dallas or Charleston … that would be hard to live with,” Scott told a group of gun rights supporters in April, some shouting he was a traitor.
For the first time in recent history, an entirely GOP-controlled state passed a bill limiting the general population’s access to guns. This was Florida, passing a number of gun laws in response to Parkland.
After that, gun-control advocates saw a surprising number of states — five — limit where people can carry their guns. Meanwhile, 14 states — including Arkansas, Missouri and South Dakota — considered but ultimately decided not to expand where people can carry guns.
There was evidence lawmakers were reacting directly to mass shootings in the news as they passed legislation. Eight states banned bump stocks, an attachment used in the Las Vegas massacre that makes a semiautomatic fire more like an illegal machine gun.
Gun-control advocates witnessed the most bipartisan enthusiasm for their cause when it came to restricting potentially dangerous people’s access to guns. There were a spate of new laws allowing family members or law enforcement officials to ask a judge to temporarily take away someone’s access if they think that person is imminently dangerous. Before 2018, only three states had such extreme risk protection orders available. Now, there are 11, including Illinois, Vermont and Florida. Yet, there is plenty of evidence the gun-rights lobby still has deep influence in state legislatures across the country.
“Without a doubt the horror of what happened in Parkland has made a difference,” Lloyd said, “because there is this fear in communities across the country: Are we going to be next?”