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Ear to the Ground

A Year After Sandy Hook, Are We Any Safer? In a Word, No

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Posted on Dec 11, 2013
(AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Remember a year ago, when the murderous atrocity at the Sandy Hook Elementary School was going to change the national debate on gun laws?

Well, it didn’t. In fact, in the aftermath of that horrendous attack that killed 20 children and six adults, gun restrictions across the country have become looser.

That’s right. Rather than recoiling in shock and finally doing something progressive and proactive about our gun-slinging culture, state legislatures across the country passed 39 laws tightening limits, but adopted 70 laws easing them. The New York Times put it all together in an interactive graphic. Some of the laws seemed to focus on permits, in many states making confidential the public records of those with concealed-carry gun permits. Of the 39 laws intensifying restrictions, 15 tried to make it harder for the mentally ill to have access to legal weapons.

Many of the laws relaxing restrictions seem to have been spawned by sheer lunacy. In Arkansas, for instance, a pregnant woman can shoot to kill if she feels her fetus is threatened. Oh, and it’s now legal in Arkansas, Georgia and North Carolina to carry concealed weapons in bars, the result of policies that don’t require legislators to carry common sense into state capitol buildings.

In the “Irony Knows No Limits” category, of the nine measures signed into law that pertain to guns in schools, all loosened limits. So the lesson from Sandy Hook, apparently, is rather than try to head off future attacks, it is better to set the stage for a shootout between teachers and assailants.

Gun control advocates are trying to claim victory anyway.

“We are in a fundamentally different place today than we were a year ago,” Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy told Digital First Media. “For my first six years in Congress, you’d get laughed at if you claimed that a bill strengthening gun laws had any chance of passing the House and Senate. Now we are regularly debating the merits of different proposals to strengthen gun law.” 

So victory is defined by not getting laughed at. More from the Digital First Media piece:

Eight states closed loopholes on background checks. Five states banned or strengthened bans on high-capacity magazines. Four states now require gun owners to report when their firearm is missing or stolen, and four states strengthened assault weapons laws.

“We’ve made unthinkable progress,” said Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign. He joined [Laura] Cutilletta [senior staff attorney for the nonprofit Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence] and other gun control advocates in a conference call with reporters Monday to discuss states’ progress on gun reform.

Still, gun control activists are measuring success from a baseline of near zero. Cutilletta said in any year before Sandy Hook, if one or two states had strengthened their gun laws, “We would have considered it a major victory.”

“The momentum is growing, and it’s all really new,” she said. “What you’re seeing is the beginning of something.”

It’s not clear yet if that momentum will translate to long-term success against one of the most powerful, well-organized, and well-funded lobbies in America.

As we posted Tuesday, Mother Jones magazine did the body count and found that 194 children under the age of 12 have been shot dead since the Sandy Hook massacre. If that’s the “beginning of something,” as Cutilletta argues, then you have to fear for what the ending might be.

As for Connecticut, where the Sandy Hook massacre took place, the state now prohibits issuing gun permits for five years to anyone who has been involuntarily committed for mental illness; requires background checks for gun, magazine and ammunition sales; has a registry of weapons offenders; bans high-capacity magazines and added more than 100 firearms to the list of prohibited assault weapons; and strengthened a law requiring those under domestic restraining orders to surrender their weapons.

That does, indeed, sound like the beginning of something. Or the ending, given the reactions of most of the other 49 states. Ultimately, the only question that matters is whether we are any safer after Sandy Hook. In Connecticut, maybe. In a bar in Arkansas, not so much.

—Posted by Scott Martelle.

 

 

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