Mass shootings lead to widening gaps on state gun policies

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – Mass shootings have garnered public attention with disturbing frequency in the United States.

“It’s wash, rinse and repeat with these mass shootings,” said Michael Anderson, a bartender who survived a mass shooting at a Colorado nightclub. “They happen, and then they happen, and then they happen — and then nothing gets done.”

At least nothing that ended the violence.

In Democratic-led states with already restrictive gun laws, officials have responded to national tragedies with even greater limits on guns, redoubling their belief that future shootings can be stopped by controlling access to lethal weapons.

In many states with Republican-led legislatures, high-profile shootings seem unlikely to require new firearm restrictions this year, reflecting the belief that violent people, not their guns, are the problem.

“Obviously, nobody wants to see these tragedies happen – this loss of life – but how the problem is viewed, and then what the response to that problem is, is the difference between day and night,” said Daniel Webster, American health professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions.

For the third year in a row, the United States recorded more than 600 mass shootings in 2022 in which at least four people were killed or injured, according to the Gun Violence Archive. This year got off to another deadly start, including three mass shootings in California in just one week that killed two dozen people. A Saturday morning shooting in an upscale Los Angeles neighborhood that killed at least three people and injured four added to the grim toll. This is despite the fact that California has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation.

As more communities mourn, legislative sessions are kicking off in many states. A number of gun bills have been filed, but there seems to be a lack of common ground.

In Texas, Democratic state Senator Roland Gutierrez called a Capitol press conference last week with relatives of some of the 19 children and two teachers killed last May at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. They pleaded with lawmakers to raise the age from 18 to 21 to buy semi-automatic rifles and lift restrictions against alleged malpractice lawsuits by law enforcement and public agencies.

“An 18-year-old shouldn’t be allowed to buy an ugly gun,” said Felicia Martinez, whose 10-year-old son Xavier Lopez was killed in the attack. She added: “These laws need to be changed and they need to be changed today, not tomorrow.”

Yet it seems unlikely. Texas House Speaker Dade Phela told reporters earlier this month that he did not expect enough support in the Republican-led House to pass laws limiting access to guns. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said raising the age to purchase semi-automatic rifles would be “unconstitutional,” although several states already have similar restrictions.

Instead, Texas officials responded last summer with $105.5 million for school safety and mental health initiatives.

Similarly, Missouri seems unlikely to enact tougher gun laws after a 19-year-old killed a teacher, a student and injured seven others last October at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis. Police said they previously responded to a call from the 19-year-old’s mother to remove a handgun from her possession, but could not do so because Missouri does not have a red flag law.

Had such a law been in place, “this would not have happened — at least that person, that situation, that gun, that death, all of that could have been prevented,” said Janay Douglas, whose 15-year-old daughter escaped from the shooter .

Democrats have sponsored legislation that allows authorities to remove guns from people at risk of causing harm. But its prospects are not good.

“I don’t think a red flag bill — as I know it and as it’s been defined — has any chance of passing in the Missouri Senate, that’s for sure,” said Senate Chairman Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, a Republican.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson, a Republican, instead proposed $50 million in school safety grants in response to the shooting.

In Oklahoma, which has experienced several mass shootings, Republican lawmakers should push for looser gun laws. GOP State Representative Jim Olsen has introduced a bill to lower the age to carry a gun from 21 to 18.

“It’s a constitutional right,” Olsen said. “The immaturity that exists at 18 sometimes still exists at 22. So what are we going to do? Raising the age to 25 or 30? I would think not.

In contrast, Democratic-led lawmakers in New York and Illinois moved fairly quickly to enact more gun restrictions after the mass shootings.

An 18-year-old shooter equipped with a bulletproof vest and semi-automatic rifle killed 10 people and wounded three others last May at a Buffalo grocery store in a predominantly black neighborhood. Within a month, the legislature and governor enacted laws preventing minors under 21 from purchasing semi-automatic rifles, limiting the sale of flak armor, and tightening red flag laws.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, a Democrat, signed legislation earlier this month, spurred in large part by an Independence Day parade shooting that killed seven and injured dozens in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park. The law prohibits the sale or possession of dozens of specific types of semi-automatic handguns and high-capacity ammunition magazines. A judge temporarily blocked it after gun rights advocates sued.

In Colorado, lawmakers are proposing a slew of new gun restrictions, two months after five people were killed at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs. Democratic leaders were most supportive of proposals to strengthen red flag laws and raise the minimum age for purchasing firearms from 18 to 21.

Anderson, who was bartending at Club Q during the shooting, wants politicians to embrace more gun control and better mental health services.

“After what I’ve been through and my friends and our community here, you know, doing nothing is not an option,” Anderson said.


Associated Press writers Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas; Jesse Bedayn in Denver; Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City; Thomas Peipert in Colorado Springs, Colorado; Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Virginia; Gary Robertson in Raleigh, NC; and Jim Salter in St. Louis contributed to this report.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *