Looking for Congress to change gun laws after a mass shooting? These 5 states didn't wait

As the country grapples with yet another shooting that left four dead in at a medical center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, eyes are on Congress to see how representatives will respond to calls for changing the country’s gun laws.

But in the more than two decades since the Columbine High School shooting, most gun reforms have taken place at the state level.

Those state-level measures can only go so far, said Monisha Henley, senior director for state affairs at gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. When Everytown ranks gun safety policies across the country the group also has to consider the laws of neighboring states.

“The reason that Illinois, even with strong gun laws, may not be the California or New York is because they’re neighbors with a state like Indiana, which is not taking this seriously, that are deregulating their laws.” Henley said.

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Here are five states that passed significant gun legislation after a deadly attack:

Connecticut

The shooting: The deadliest school shooting the country’s history left 26 dead, including 20 children, after a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

The response: The Connecticut General Assembly established a Gun Violence and Children’s Safety Task Force responsible for holding public hearings and delivering proposals for gun control and school safety.

“Evil visited this community today and it’s too early to speak of recovery, but each parent, each sibling, each member of the family has to understand that Connecticut — we’re all in this together,” Dannel Malloy, Connecticut’s governor at the time, said. “We’ll do whatever we can to overcome this event.”

In the months following the shooting lawmakers drafted a 139-page bill, which:

  • Added more than 100 firearms to the state's list of banned assault weapons.

  • Banned the sale or purchase of ammunition magazines with capacities of more than 10 rounds.

  • Required background checks for all gun sales.

The Sandy Hook shooting renewed the national debate around gun control as a growing number of gun control advocacy groups lobbied the White House and Congress to introduce gun control legislation.

What happened: Four months after the deadly shooting, Connecticut lawmakers passed its comprehensive gun control legislation, with Malloy signing it into law just hours after the it won approval from the General Assembly.

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California

The shooting: Gunmen – armed with assault rifles and handguns – opened fire during an event at the Inland Regional Center located in San Bernardino, California, in 2015, leaving 14 dead and 22 injured.

The response: In the wake of the San Bernardino shooting, California lawmakers looked to introduce a comprehensive package to revise the state’s gun laws and revisit previously stalled proposals, including a bill that would have closed the loophole allowing semiautomatic guns to have recessed “bullet button.”

One of the semiautomatic rifles recovered was fitted with a bullet button.

Among the new proposals and previously stalled bills reconsidered after the shooting were:

  • Outlawing the manufacturing and sale of all semiautomatic weapons with the capacity to be fitted with a detachable magazine.

  • Requiring background checks for those buying ammunition.

  • Banning firearms with the holding capacity of more than 10 rounds.

  • Requiring homemade guns to be registered with the state.

What happened: Nearly seven months after the shooting in San Bernardino, Gov. Jerry Brown signed six new gun laws into law.

With the new pieces of legislation, the state closed the loophole allowing bullet buttons on semiautomatic weapons – a measure Brown previously vetoed in 2013, during another gun law reform effort.

The state also passed measures to restrict firearms with the capacity of holding more than 10 rounds, to require a background check when purchasing ammunition and to restrict “straw purchasing,” which is when an individual purchases a weapon legally but gives or sells it to another individual.

Brown also vetoed several other bills, including one that would have made it a felony to steal a gun, saying that a similar measure was slated to appear on the state ballot later that year.

►Age limit buy a semi-automatic rifle?: Uvalde has House pushing a minimum age increase from 18

Florida

The shooting: Seventeen people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 after a gunman opened fire on the school with an AR-15-styled rifle.

The response: A gun reform movement was launched in the aftermath of the school shooting in Parkland – which took place almost two years after a mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub that killed 49 people.

The movement, which also launched March for Our Lives, was led by a group of Marjory Stoneman Douglas students, including David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez, Jaclyn Corin, Cameron Kasky and Alex Wind.

During the aftermath of the shooting, Florida lawmakers worked on bipartisan legislation with proposals including:

  • Creating a program to arm some school officials.

  • Requiring a three-day waiting period for the majority of long gun purchases.

  • Raising the minimum age to purchase those weapons to 21.

  • Banning the possession and sale of bump stocks.

What happened: After weeks of debate, Florida lawmakers approved the bill in a bipartisan vote despite opposition from the National Rifle Association and then-Gov. Rick Scott signed the legislation into law.

Along with the increased age minimum and imposing a three-day wait period, the legislation also created a “red flag” law, which allows authorities to confiscate or temporality bar the purchase of firearms from individuals who are deemed dangerous.

In the days following the Texas school shooting, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., voiced approval for Florida’s gun laws passed after Parkland.

“The Florida law is a good law and it’s a signal of what’s possible,” said Murphy, who is a vocal advocate for gun control legislation. “It married together, changes to Florida’s gun laws, with some significant investments in mental health and school security.”

Despite Florida’s recent improvement to its gun laws, progress as stalled since 2018 and its considered to be missing key gun laws, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

►Arming teachers: Ohio Gov. DeWine set to sign bill requiring only 24 hours of training for teachers to carry firearms

Colorado

The shooting: A 21-year-old man opened fire in a Boulder grocery store in March 2021, killing 10 people. Ten days before the shooting, Boulder had voted to ban assault weapons, but the measure was blocked in court.

The court ruled that the city couldn’t ban assault weapons due to a preemption law that prohibits cities from passing stricter gun laws than the state.

The response: In the weeks following the shooting inside the King Soopers grocery store, state lawmakers proposed a series of bills in an attempt to curb gun violence.

Among the proposed measures:

  • Requiring individuals to safely store firearms and report any loss of stolen firearms.

  • Tightening an already-existing law that allows the removal of firearms from individuals charged with domestic violence.

  • Establishing an office of gun violence prevention for the state.

  • Banning individuals with violent misdemeanors, including child abuse convictions and sexual assault, from purchasing a firearm for five years.

What happened: Colorado lawmakers passed the series of bills and Gov. Jared Polis signed the legislation into law just weeks after the shooting.

The state also passed a bill overturning Colorado’s preemption law, making the Centennial State the first in the country to do so, and allowing cities to set stricter gun regulations than the state.

Despite the numerous gun laws passed in the aftermath of the 2021 shooting, lawmakers didn’t propose or attempt to pass a statewide assault weapons ban. Colorado State Senate President Steve Fenberg, a Democrat from Boulder, told 9 News that while he supports a state-level assault weapons ban, it wouldn’t be as effective as a federal law.

“We could pass an assault weapon ban at the state level. I support that. But is that going to save the most lives? Probably not, given the fact that we are just one state,” Fenberg said. “There are probably tens of thousands of assault weapons already here and you can drive an hour-and-a-half north and purchase them.”

►Evolving police strategy: In Boulder shooting, Eric Talley answered 'most dangerous call' in law enforcement.

New York

The shooting: Ten Black people were killed in a shooting at a Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo May 15. Authorities said the gunman targeted a predominately Black community and he was inspired by a racist theory.

The response: In the aftermath of the Buffalo grocery store shooting, New York lawmakers, including Gov. Kathy Hochul, put together a package of bills that would further tighten the state’s already strict gun laws.

The legislative package would include:

  • Raising the age minimum to buy a semiautomatic rifle to 21.

  • Requiring a gun license to purchase a semiautomatic rifle.

  • Prohibiting the sale and purchase of body armor for individuals not in law enforcement.

  • Strengthening the state’s “red flag” laws, which work to remove firearms from individual who pose a threat to themselves or others.

Currently the state only requires licenses and permits for New Yorkers looking to purchase a handgun.

One of the proposed bills would also create a new task force within the attorney general’s office to investigate the role of social media in “promoting and facilitating violent extremism and domestic terrorism online,” according to the governor’s office.

What happened: The New York legislature passed the package of gun laws Thursday night nearly three weeks after the mass shooting at the Buffalo grocery store.

►Congress responds: Uvalde and Buffalo survivors, families to testify before House Oversight committee on mass shootings

More coverage from USA TODAY

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  • 'Shame on us!': House passes gun-control package after mass shootings but it's likely to die in the Senate

  • Everyone knows the NRA: Who's on the other side? These groups lobby for curbs on firearms

  • The gun lobby: Beyond NRA: Other gun rights groups spend millions in Washington to influence laws

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: New gun control laws after mass shootings: Change comes at state level

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