A Pew Research Center survey released in early December showed there are more Americans supporting gun rights than there are U.S. citizens backing more gun control laws for the first time in almost 20 years.
However, more than 200 state lawmakers from all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia vow to do whatever they can to prevent gun violence by making it tougher to own a firearm, state by state.
The Pew Research Center survey showing that slightly more than half of Americans believe it is more important to protect gun ownership rights was released Dec. 10, two days after the American State Legislators for Gun Violence Prevention held its first meeting.
Described as a nonpartisan coalition of state legislators, the group discussed ways to strengthen gun laws. The lawmakers also talked about ways to close loopholes in the background check system in their states. That is a growing concern they have about guns in the context of domestic violence and abuse and “effective intervention strategies in communities experiencing high rates of gun violence.”
“Gun violence isn’t a regional concern or a partisan issue. It’s a tragic crisis affecting Americans across the country,” said New York State General Assembly member Brian Kavanagh (D).
“We’ve come together in recognition of the essential role state legislators must play – whether or not Congress chooses to act – in reducing gun violence,” added Kavanagh, the founder of American State Legislators for Gun Violence Protection.
A Democrat from the Texas Legislature, Senator Jose R. Rodriguez, said the members of the coalition feel they have no alternative but to act at the state level “given Congress’s inability to enact sensible, commonsense laws.”
However, the legislators’ constituents may not agree.
The Pew study showed support for gun rights increased seven points — from 45 percent to 52 percent — while the share of people supporting gun control fell five points — from 51 percent to 46 percent.
There is a racial divide in the Pew survey.
It shows 54 percent of African-Americans believe gun ownership does more to protect people than endanger them, nearly twice as many as the percentage who answered that question in the affirmative two years ago.
Many more white Americans see gun ownership as a protection issue. The Pew survey shows 62 percent view guns as doing more to protect people as compared to 54 percent who felt that way in December 2012.
The members of this new coalition of state lawmakers are definitely in the minority on the question of whether gun ownership does more to protect people than endanger them.
“As both a legislator and a survivor of victims of gun violence — my father and brother-in-law were both murdered with firearms — I am inspired by the creation of this new coalition and hopeful it will lead to a reduction in injuries and death,” said Renny Cushing (D), who is a member of the New Hampshire State House and the founder and executive director of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights.
“We can honor those families and communities ravaged by gun violence by finding common sense ways to prevent future gun tragedies,” he added.
Barbara Bollier, a state representative from Kansas, is one of the Republicans in the coalition.
“This nonpartisan coalition is a tremendous opportunity for the people’s voice to be heard throughout the country,” she said.
While the state legislators’ coalition might be bipartisan, Americans’ attitude toward gun control certainly is not.
The Pew survey showed 60 percent of Democrats believe guns do more to put people’s safety at risk, while only 35 percent say they do more to protect people from becoming crime victims.
Among Democrats who described themselves as “liberal” the split was much higher, with 81 percent saying it was more important to control gun ownership than to protect the right of Americans to own guns.
By contrast, 83 percent of Republicans who said they were “conservative” believe it is more important to protect gun ownership rights than to control gun ownership.
The Pew survey also showed 8-in-10 Republicans say guns do more to protect people from becoming crime victims, up 17 points from 2012.
Gun control advocates in Washington state could be showing the way to others like themselves who are more worried about regulating gun ownership than protecting the right to carry.
After the Washington State Legislature failed to pass a bill that would have put tougher background check requirements for gun buyers into law, supporters of the legislation put it on the November ballot.
Voters approved Initiative 594. It provides that all firearms sales or transfers in whole or in part in Washington are subject to background checks unless specifically exempted by federal or state law.
It also requires firearm sales or transfers between unlicensed persons to be completed by a licensed dealer according to specified procedures, and establishes penalties and exemptions, and makes other changes to provisions governing firearms transactions.
Fueled by that success, gun control advocates have an agenda for action in 2015.
The Seattle Times reported they will push for criminal penalties for adults who fail to safely store guns, if the firearms are used by children to shoot themselves or others; new gun-violence protection orders to remove guns from people showing signs of dangerous mental illness; and adding some violent misdemeanors like domestic violence to the list of criminal convictions for which people could be barred from purchasing guns in the future.
However, the gun control pendulum is swinging both ways. Those who are more concerned with protecting gun ownership rights need only to look at the Lone Star State, where Texas lawmakers have introduced six different open-carry handgun proposals.
Gov.-elect Greg Abbott has promised to sign the legislation if it reaches his desk in 2015.