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Gun Legislation At The State Level Over The Last 10 Years

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Democrats in Washington, including the president, are calling once again for new gun control legislation after two high-profile mass shootings in a week. President Biden says he would support a new assault weapons ban and universal background checks. Republican resistance has stopped that sort of legislation from passing in recent years. There has been more action on the state level, though, and Nick Penzenstadler has been following these issues for USA Today.

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

NICK PENZENSTADLER: Happy to be here.

SHAPIRO: There's this common line that there hasn't been much new gun legislation since the shooting in Newtown, Conn., almost a decade ago. And that may be true at the federal level, but things look different in some states. So tell us about some of the most significant changes that you have seen at the state level.

PENZENSTADLER: Right. The action is truly at the state house level. There have been, you know, between 1,500 and 2,000 bills introduced every year over the last decade. And maybe only a few dozen of those get passed. For instance, just since Parkland in 2018, there have been more than 150 of these gun control laws passed at the state level. So that's everything from expanding background checks to putting restrictions on who can buy guns - prohibited purchasers - to these extreme risk protection orders, these red flag laws, where you can petition a court to take guns away from someone that is deemed dangerous.

SHAPIRO: And when you look at the new state legislation, does this fall out along pretty predictable blue-state red-state lines, or where is this happening?

PENZENSTADLER: Yeah, it's really interesting. You see some of the bluest of blue states - California, New Jersey, Connecticut, Hawaii, New York - who are routinely introducing new and strict gun regulations that often filter across the country. And then you see the predictable red states, the South and Mountain West, kind of tiptoeing into those changes or even opening up gun laws, and then there's kind of everyone in the middle.

SHAPIRO: And let's talk about who is influencing these new laws. I mean, it seems like on the one hand, there are groups pushing gun regulations, like Everytown For Gun Safety and the group run by Gabby Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman who was shot in 2010. And then there are conservative groups trying to roll back some of these laws, so explain how this is playing out.

PENZENSTADLER: Yeah, you see these growing influential gun control groups that are really calling for incremental increases in the background check system and prevention of violence for people we don't want to have guns, you know, strengthening that system and the process of the FBI doing those checks, as well as the hardware, looking at ghost guns, these unserialized guns that can't be traced when something goes wrong. And then on the flip side, you see conservative groups who are really trying to expand access and expand where you can carry and limit if you have to have a permit and, people say, a permission slip to carry a gun in public. So those are the initiatives that you see, like the NRA, Gun Owners of America and the like, pushing at the state level.

SHAPIRO: And you say that what we've seen in Boulder over the last few weeks has been a prime example of this. Tell us what's played out there.

PENZENSTADLER: Right. So in Boulder, you saw a municipality that, years ago, passed an assault weapons ban. So they had a list of characteristics of rifles, shotguns and pistols that they said are prohibited. We will not allow these to be sold in our city. But of course, that was challenged in court almost immediately, and just days ago, a local judge invalidated that on this preemption standard where the state has a rule about guns, so the city can't be more strict than that state law. And that's the rule in more than 40 states where the gun lobby has really worked hard to say, we want uniformity. We don't want a patchwork of cities making rules that are stricter than what the state says.

SHAPIRO: Now, at the federal law, President Biden, as we said, renewed calls for gun legislation. The House has already passed a couple of bills. But when you look at the situation in the Senate, have the dynamics really changed enough to see legislation come out of Washington?

PENZENSTADLER: Right. As you mentioned, I mean, that magic number is 60 to get over the filibuster. And right now they don't have 60 votes. So I did see a lot of gun rights activists saying this presidential election is important, but the real action is in the Senate. And if there's going to be movement on some of these federal bills, yes, the House will pass it, but the Senate is the firewall to prevent those from happening. So I think time will tell if they'll get those 60 votes.

SHAPIRO: You described some of these gun control groups, like Everytown and Giffords, as growing and influential. Does that suggest that even if Congress does not pass new laws, the landscape on this is changing, especially as the NRA is shrinking under scandals and lawsuits?

PENZENSTADLER: Absolutely. And I think they recognize that the action is at the state level, and they are very active to lobby and to put forward candidates that will pass their agenda.

SHAPIRO: That's Nick Penzenstadler of USA Today. Thanks a lot.

PENZENSTADLER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.