Though many politicians vowed that Newtown would be different, in the months since the tragedy, the urgency behind federal gun-control legislation has continued to wane, with Republicans threatening to filibuster and the NRA chipping away at the legislation behind the scenes. In an effort to keep pressure on members of Congress, on Wednesday in Denver, President Obama renewed his call for tighter gun control. “Colorado has shown that practical progress is possible,” he said. “We’ve seen enacted tougher background checks that won’t infringe on the rights of responsible gun owners, but will help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.” Colorado’s legislation is impressive, considering the state’s history of supporting gun rights, but few states are following its example. Despite the national push for stricter gun laws, so far more states have actually loosened gun restrictions since Sandy Hook.
States including New York, Connecticut, and now Maryland have made headlines for pushing strict new gun measures, but according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, five states have passed seven laws strengthening gun laws this year, while ten states passed seventeen laws that weaken restrictions. The gun-control laws tend to be more significant, such as New York’s assault weapons ban, while the legislation involving gun rights involves smaller changes like South Dakota allowing teachers to bring guns into the classroom. However, the Washington Post notes that the numbers reflect the effectiveness of gun rights groups in states across the nation. Pro-gun control organizations tend to be more focused on federal laws, and spent only $55,000 on state-level legislation between 2007 and 2012, according to the Sunlight Foundation. In the same period, pro-gun groups including the NRA spent $2.3 million on efforts to block state restrictions on guns.
While some states were considering gun legislation before Newtown, talk of a new federal gun control law definitely sparked a backlash. This year at least 36 states have introduced legislation to nullify federal restrictions on gun rights (supremacy clause be damned). “Opponents of common-sense gun laws have ginned up fears among responsible gun owners that have nothing to do with what’s being proposed, not a thing to do with facts,” warned Obama on Wednesday. “It feeds into suspicions of government, that you need a gun to protect yourself from government: ‘We can’t do background checks because the government will come take my guns away.’ The government is us. These officials were elected by you.” Of course, that’s exactly what you’d expect to hear from someone with a cunning (and totally undetectable) gun confiscation plot.
Despite President Obama’s efforts, it’s entirely possible that Congress won’t pass any new gun legislation. In that case, the effect of Newtown could be a spate of state laws strengthening gun rights, though those rights were never seriously threatened.