How the States are Pulling Apart
But the atmosphere in the states has shifted notably since the elementary-school massacre in Newtown, Conn. last year, which also prompted Obama to declare gun control a top priority after almost entirely sublimating the issue in his first term. Against this backdrop, Democratic governors and legislators have recovered their voices on the issue, after a long silence. "We have had strong states for years "¦ especially with California being able to pass a lot of strong laws," says Brian Malte, director of mobilization for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "But, that said, the states with stronger gun laws hadn't passed [further] laws in a while. [Now] that's really ramped up."
In January, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that expanded the state's assault-weapons ban, limited ammunition magazines to seven rounds, and required universal background checks. In March, Hickenlooper signed Colorado's bill limiting magazine size and imposing background checks. Maryland has approved a package that includes an assault-weapons ban and magazine limits, as well as a fingerprint requirement for handgun purchases. Connecticut Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy last week signed into law a sweeping package that includes bans on assault weapons and large magazines, and background checks. Gun-control measures that include expanded background checks and magazine limits are also advancing through Democratic-controlled legislatures in California, Delaware, Oregon, and New Jersey, although Chris Christie, the Garden State's Republican governor, said he won't comment on the proposals unless and until they reach his desk. A bill to expand background checks also cleared a committee vote in March in the Minnesota state House but faces an uncertain future on the floor.
This fusillade of activity in blue states, though, hasn't breached the skepticism of gun control in red ones. In 2012, Ohio and Virginia both approved legislation loosening concealed-carry restrictions. This year, South Dakota has authorized the arming of school personnel, Virginia has barred state courts from disclosing information about concealed-carry permit holders, and Tennessee has allowed concealed-carry permit holders to transport guns in their car trunks, even without permission from private-property owners. Meanwhile, Republican legislators in Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Texas, Virginia, and Wyoming have advanced, to varying degrees, mostly symbolic legislation to impede or block entirely the enforcement of new federal gun-control measures. Republican state Rep. Steve Toth has introduced legislation in Texas that would make it a crime for local officials to enforce any federal ban on assault weapons or large-capacity magazines.
Gun-control initiatives have faltered in some blue states this year, including Washington. But after years of inaction, the revival of activism in Democratic-leaning places has widened the chasm between blue and red states. The same pattern is evident on gay marriage. For most of the period since 2000, the story was the cascade of culturally conservative states that passed legislation or ballot initiatives banning same-sex marriages. But in more culturally liberal states, the momentum decisively shifted in 2011 when Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, and Rhode Island all enacted civil-union laws, and New York trumped them by becoming the largest state to approve gay marriage. In 2012, three more blue states — Maine, Maryland, and Washington — became the first to pass ballot initiatives authorizing gay marriage; Minnesota voters rejected a ballot initiative to ban it.
"My focus is to create a red-state model" that can be touted by the GOP in 2016. — Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback
This year, the momentum for advocates of same-sex marriage has continued, with the passage of the civil-union bill in Colorado (where a constitutional amendment still bars gay marriage), and votes by the Democratic-controlled Senate in Illinois and House in Rhode Island to move from civil unions to full-scale marriage recognition. Rhode Island's bill appears stalled in the state Senate, but the Legislature could still allow voters to decide the issue through a referendum. The powerful Illinois House speaker declared recently that the bill in his chamber was still a dozen votes short of passage, but supporters believe they are closer than that as a vote nears. "I'm optimistic," said Democratic Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon. "I have been making phone calls to House members. My advice to them is that if they are not persuaded by anything I have to say, listen to your kids."