With Republicans stonewalling for years on any significant federal gun safety legislation, some states are now rushing to take steps themselves following large-scale shootings in New York and Texas this month.
Democrats in some blue states are making fresh efforts to reinvigorate proposals toward what gun control advocates call “evidence-based policy interventions”.
In New Jersey, Democratic governor Phil Murphy singled out four Republican state lawmakers opposing gun safety and accused them of taking “blood money” while urging them to pass a stalled gun control package that included raising the age to 21 for purchases of long guns, such as assault rifles, and removing laws that shield gun makers from civil lawsuits.
Among those Murphy named were state senators John DiMaio, co-sponsor of a bill that would eliminate the statutory prohibition against the possession of “hollow point” ammunition; and Ed Durr, sponsor of a bill to remove magazine capacity limits and repeal a “red flag” law prohibiting guns for people deemed to pose “a significant danger of bodily injury”.
“In the face of children being slaughtered to the point where the reports indicate these beautiful children were unrecognizable, I say let these folks come out from behind their press releases and their tweets and cast votes before the residents of this great state,” Murphy said.
In New York, where the gunman was charged with first degree murder in the deaths of 10 Black customers and employees of a supermarket in Buffalo two weeks ago, state Democratic governor Kathy Hochul said she would seek – at a “minimum” – to ban people under 21 from purchasing AR-15-style assault rifles.
Military-style assault rifles were used in Buffalo and last week in the school shooting in Uvalde, south Texas, by 18-year-olds in both tragedies, Hochul pointed out.
“That person’s not old enough to buy a legal drink. I don’t want 18-year-olds to have guns. At least not in the state of New York,” she said.
Among the measures Hochul enacted by executive order after the Buffalo massacre was a unit within the state’s office of counterterrorism that would focus exclusively on the rise of domestic terrorism and extremism.
As the law stands in New York, a person must be 21 or older to obtain a license to purchase a handgun but the state doesn’t require licenses for long guns, such as shotguns or rifles, and someone can own one at 16. Hochul hopes to get the law through this week.
In California – which has experienced a string of mass shootings, including one at a church luncheon two weeks ago – Democratic governor Gavin Newsom has called for tougher gun controls to be fast-tracked through the legislature.
“California will not stand by as kids across the country are gunned down,” Newsom said last week.
“Guns are now the leading cause of death for kids in America. While the US Senate stands idly by and activist federal judges strike down commonsense gun laws across our nation, California will act with the urgency this crisis demands.”
“The Second Amendment [to the US Constitution, on the right to bear arms] is not a suicide pact. We will not let one more day go by without taking action to save lives,” he added.
An initial package of bills Newsom has committed to signing include restrictions on advertising of firearms to minors, curbs ghost guns, establish rights of action to limit spread of illegal assault weapons, and the right for governments and victims of gun violence to sue manufacturers and sellers of firearms.
However, few Republican-controlled states have followed their lead. Conservative lawmakers in Pennsylvania and Michigan prevented efforts to introduce votes on gun safety legislation, while officials in Texas including the hard-right governor Greg Abbott, have blamed the school massacre there on a gunman with mental health problems, not the fact that he was legally able to buy semi-automatic rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition as soon as he turned 18 earlier this year.
“Anybody who shoots somebody else has a mental health challenge, period,” Abbott said a day after the Uvalde shooting.
At the federal level, a group of bipartisan senators have said they would work through the weekend to reach agreement on steps to limit access to guns, although there are no big moves afoot to ban assault weapons, as Vice-President Kamala Harris called for anew on Saturday, or raise the eligibility age to 21.
“It’s inconceivable to me that we have not passed significant federal legislation trying to address the tragedy of gun violence in this nation, especially because since Sandy Hook, we’ve seen even worse slaughter, in Las Vegas, in Orlando,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut said on ABC on Sunday.
Pennsylvania Republican Senator Patrick Toomey said: “Times change. There’s a possibility that might work this time.”