While Senate Democrats attempt to reach a long-shot compromise on gun legislation, blue states are taking their own steps to respond to the recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, Uvalde, Texas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
New York became the first to pass a slate of new gun control bills before the end of its legislative session on Thursday. California, New Jersey, and Delaware also have legislation in the pipeline.
These states, where Democrats have trifecta control of government, already have some of the strictest gun control laws in the country. Soon, they’ll likely have even stronger laws, which should mean less gun violence: States with tougher gun laws have lower rates of gun-related homicides and suicides, according to a January study by the gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.
While blue states typically see limiting access to guns as the key to reducing gun violence, red states have historically responded to mass shootings by loosening gun restrictions, promoting the myth that the “good guy with a gun” is the only way to stop a bad guy with one. What’s resulted is a patchwork of gun laws across the country. With no sweeping gun control legislation forthcoming on the federal level, that might be the best Democrats can get for now.
Here’s what blue states are working on.
New York Democrats passed a slew of gun control bills Thursday that Gov. Kathy Hochul, also a Democrat, has said that she will soon sign.
One bill strengthens the state’s existing extreme risk law, or “red flag law,” which was enacted in 2019. The law allows law enforcement to bar individuals who are believed to pose a danger to themselves or others from possessing firearms through what’s called an extreme risk protection order.
New York state police decided not to seek such an order against the Buffalo shooter, who didn’t have a previous criminal record but had made serious threats of violence. Now lawmakers have amended current law in an attempt to ensure that won’t happen again. Under the new policy, more people, including health practitioners, would be allowed to apply for extreme risk protection orders, and law enforcement would be required to do so if they had reason to believe an individual was dangerous.
Other bills would institute a new permit requirement to own a rifle, raise the minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21, and ban the sale of body armor to people outside law enforcement or other state-designated professions. The Buffalo shooter was wearing body armor, which protected him when a security guard fired back at him.
Democratic lawmakers in New York have signaled that they might not stop there, particularly if the US Supreme Court overturns the state’s ban on concealed carry permits in a ruling expected by the end of the month. Hochul has said that she will call a special session to pass legislation addressing the ruling if needed when the time comes.
Democrats in California advanced a gun control package last week that includes a bill that would allow private individuals to sue manufacturers, sellers, and distributors of illegal assault weapons, ghost guns, and certain other firearms — and to claim at least $10,000 in civil damages per weapon. The legal mechanism in the bill is modeled after a Texas law that went into effect in September that allows private individuals to sue anyone who performs an abortion after fetal cardiac activity is detected, typically around six weeks of pregnancy.
The package also includes bills to ban gun shows and firearm sales on state property and the advertising of some firearms to minors. Other bills require school officials to report any “perceived threat” of a mass shooting to law enforcement and to educate families of middle and high school students on safe gun storage. And some focus on licensed gun dealers, requiring them to install digital video surveillance, a burglary alarm, and keyless entry system, and to carry general liability insurance, as well as complete annual training.
The bills were pushed through before the California state legislature’s deadline to advance bills out of the chamber from which they originated last week. Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom has vowed to expedite the bills and has said that he would sign them by the end of the month.
There’s some question as to whether all of the bills could survive likely legal challenges if they become law; a California state law raising the minimum age to purchase a rifle to 21 was struck down by a federal appeals court last month.
Despite that concern, the legislature may go even further: A proposal from Newsom to create a $25 million competitive grant program to support local gun buyback programs is moving through the budget negotiation process.
Last week, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, asked state lawmakers to put all existing gun bills to floor votes, including ones proposed by Republicans. He has argued that doing so will allow voters to see “in no uncertain terms who supports gun safety and who wants New Jersey’s streets and communities flooded with guns.” Some Republicans have been open to the idea, but it’s not clear whether Democratic leadership in the state legislature will oblige.
Murphy’s own nine-bill package is among the proposals that could be put to a vote. It would create safe storage standards for firearms, raise the minimum age to buy a long gun to 21, and ban guns with a caliber of .50 or more.
And it would require people to register their guns when they move to New Jersey from out of state, gun safety training for firearm ID cardholders, and that gun manufacturers adopt microstamping technology in all new guns sold in the state so that law enforcement can link cartridges found at crime scenes to the gun that fired them.
In the aftermath of recent mass shootings, there has been a renewed push to pass legislation in Delaware requiring a permit and safety courses before buying a handgun in the state. The bill has been stalled in the statehouse, where it has yet to be heard in committee. It passed the state Senate more than a year ago. But that could change when state lawmakers return from recess on June 7.
Some Delaware Democrats have argued that their caucus should go even further and revive another proposal that would ban large-capacity magazines, defined as holding more than 17 rounds of ammunition, and require residents to submit those weapons to a state buyback program.
A measure doing both was passed by the state Senate last year, but pared down significantly with amendments in the statehouse. One of those amendments would have still allowed residents to own large-capacity magazines but would’ve increased penalties for anyone using one in a crime. Delaware Online reported that the Senate is expected to strike those amendments and send the bill back to the House for another vote, likely also after the current recess.