Since 17 students and faculty died in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida last month, people across the country have been demanding real action on gun control.
The teen survivors of the shooting in Parkland, Florida have been some of the loudest voices in the discussion. After organizing a national school walkout day, urging students to protest inaction on gun control, the protests culminated in last weekend’s March For Our Lives protests. In Washington, D.C., hundreds of thousands of activists rallied outside the Capitol for common sense gun laws.
In the absence of meaningful progress on the issue in Congress, however, many state lawmakers have taken steps to examine their own gun laws — knowing that relying on federal government to act may be pointless.
The proposed state-level changes include various, middle-of-the road gun laws, including raising the minimum age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21 and imposing a ban on bump stocks, the device that turns a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic weapon and that was used in the Las Vegas shooting, which killed more than 50 people.
States have historically been more successful than Congress at moving forward with gun-related measures, according to the State Firearm Law project, which has analyzed gun laws between 1991 and 2016. But this year has seen an especially high number of proposed gun control measures on the state level.
“It’s way too early to draw conclusions about how successful these laws are going to be,” Michael Siegel, a Boston University School of Public Health professor and the head of the State Firearm Law project, told PBS News Hour. “But right now is very different because they are being considered in the first place.”
Although this list is not comprehensive of every state where lawmakers have considered gun measures, these are the states that have recently made notable progress in this policy area:
The state where the Parkland shooting occurred was one of the first to look inward at its own laws that enabled a 19-year-old to purchase an AR-15 assault rifle.
Just a few weeks after the massacre, survivors of the shooting stormed the state capitol, met with state lawmakers, and demanded change. Just a few weeks later, Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed into law a suite of new gun control measures into law.
While the package of measures didn’t include an assault weapons ban like many shooting survivors hoped for, it did include a number of other common sense gun policies — like raising the minimum age to buy a gun from 18 to 21, imposing a mandatory three-day waiting period on gun purchases, and a ban on bump stocks.
The Vermont House of Representatives on Tuesday gave final approval to S.55, a bill that would raise the age for purchasing a gun to 21, ban the sale of bump stocks, impose universal background checks for all gun purchases, and partially ban high-capacity magazines. The bill now returns to the state Senate for final passage.
The legislation’s advancement is notable considering Vermont’s history as a traditionally blue state with a love of guns.
For years, lawmakers in Vermont have failed to pass any meaningful gun control measures. Attempts to impose universal background checks failed thanks to outside spending by gun control groups. Pro-gun groups routinely list Vermont as one of the friendlier states for gun owners based on its lack of gun laws, and the National Rifle Association gave Gov. Phil Scott (R) a 93 percent rating during his 2016 campaign.
But after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the state had a major change of heart. Gov. Scott told reporters that his thinking on guns had “evolved.”
On February 15, just one day after the Parkland shooting, police arrested an 18-year-old in Poultney, Vermont for plotting a mass school shooting of his own. The close call reportedly shook Gov. Scott. “If we are at a point when we put our kids on a bus and send them to school without being able to guarantee their safety, who are we?” he said to reporters the following day. “As a result, I’ve been asking myself, ‘Are we doing everything we can to protect our kids?’”
On Monday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed into law a number of gun control measures that were previously blocked by NRA-backed former Gov. Chris Christie (R). All six bills are nearly identical to bills that have previously been introduced — and passed — in the state legislature, but that couldn’t make it past Christie.
One imposes a ban on the sale of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. Another outlaws the sale of armor-piercing bullets. Two more are aimed at preventing access to guns for people with mental illness or people who might pose a threat to others (although the vast majority of people with a mental health diagnosis do not pose a threat to others). Another introduces stricter requirements for residents to prove a “justifiable need” in order to obtain a handgun permit. The final bill expands background checks to include all private gun sales.
In addition to legislation, New Jersey’s pension fund also announced Thursday that it sold its $1.9 million stake in a leading manufacturer of semi-automatic rifles, making it the latest in a growing list of financial institutions and companies taking action against the gun industry since the Parkland shooting.
The New Jersey Division of Investment said Friday the state treasury sold its shares of Vista Outdoor, which manufacturers Savage MSR semi-automatic rifles. The director of the department specifically cited the Parkland shooting as the reason for divesting.
Failing to see any action on the federal level, Oregonians have taken the issue of gun control into their own hands, hoping to let voters decide in November.
According to the Oregon Statesman Journal, a proposed ballot initiative that would restrict the sale, production, and ownership of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines has gathered enough signatures to be delivered to the Oregon Secretary of State.
If the Secretary of State verifies that there are at least 1,000 valid signatures, the state Attorney General will begin the ballot title drafting process on April 10. Petitioners must ultimately submit 88,184 signatures in order to qualify the measure for the November ballot.
Just a little more than a week after the Parkland shooting, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) issued a “red flag” policy on guns through an executive order. The governor hopes that will help keep guns away from people who “could pose significant threats to public safety.”
“The executive order I signed today is an immediate step we can take to make residents safer. It sets the table for a complementary legislative effort,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said in a statement. “We cannot wait a minute longer for Washington to take action to prevent gun violence.”
Five states — Connecticut, California, Washington, Oregon, and Indiana — have implemented similar red flag measures in recent years, but Rhode Island is the first to do so since the school shooting in Parkland.
Under the measure, law enforcement will not have the authority to confiscate guns, but will be encouraged to use “all available legal steps” to remove firearms from people who have shown warning signs, including recently making threats of violence online or in person. The executive order also launches a campaign to educate the public about signs that could indicate if a person poses a threat.