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State Responses to Gun Violence Differ Along Party Lines

By Cyrus Afzali   |   Monday, 04 Feb 2013 12:14 PM

States have moved much more quickly than the federal government to address gun violence in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. school shooting, but there are vast differences in the approaches being taken by Democratic and Republican governors and legislators.

The New York Times reported Monday that Democratic governors, generally along the East Coast, are calling for a ban on semiautomatic weapons or large-capacity ammunition magazines, while their Republican counterparts are generally taking a stand against further gun restrictions by pressing for other measures like improved mental health programs.

There have been some notable exceptions to the traditional party responses. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, recently reaffirmed his support for his state’s gun laws, which he noted were “some of the toughest gun-control measures in place in the country.”

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton of Minnesota, on the other hand, said after the Newtown shooting that his “reading of the Constitution is that it provides a complete permission for any law-abiding citizen to possess firearms, whichever ones he or she chooses, and the ammunition to go along with that.”

Similarly, Arkansas Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe is expected to sign a bill currently working its way through the Republican-controlled legislature expanding the rights of people to carry concealed weapons, even in churches.

But the number of Democrats favoring tougher laws outnumber those who don't. For example, the Democratic governors in Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, Massachusetts and Maryland have called for implementing more restrictions and strengthening those already on the books.

In his State of the State address last week, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley urged lawmakers to enact a ban on assault weapons, require licenses for buying handguns and make improvements to mental health treatment and school security.

In Arizona, meanwhile, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer is rejecting new gun laws, saying the state's job is to punish criminals, not law-abiding citizens. In Tennessee, another Republican stronghold, lawmakers have gone in the opposite direction from many states controlled by Democrats.

Tennessee lawmakers have introduced measures to allow school employees to carry guns and to let people keep guns and ammunition in their cars on both public and private properties. One state lawmaker has also introduced a bill to prevent state money from being used to enforce federal gun laws in some cases.

For his part, Connecticut's Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, whose state appears ready to enact tougher laws of its own, believes the federal government also has to do more to help curb the violence, especially in states where guns used to commit crimes are usually bought in another state.

“As long as weapons continue to travel up and down I-95, what is available for sale in Florida or Virginia can have devastating consequences here in Connecticut.”

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