Connecticut State Police lead children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, after a shooting at the school that left 20 children and six adults dead.(Photo: Shannon Hicks, Newtown Bee, via AP)
In the six months since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, lawmakers in four key states have approved significant restrictions on access to firearms. But elsewhere in the USA, the picture is far from clear.
A USA TODAY analysis of the 86 state gun laws passed since Dec. 14 shows that states have both tightened and loosened access to guns. Lawmakers in many states used the spotlight the shootings created to broaden both who can carry a gun and where they can carry it. States including Colorado and Maryland tightened access to guns, Arkansas and Mississippi eased restrictions, and many other states issued rules whose impact could be debated either way.
In the U.S. Senate, lawmakers on April 17 blocked a proposal to expand background checks for gun purchases.
The attack by gunman Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six staff members at the Newtown, Conn., school. Since then, the national death toll from guns has topped 5,000, according to a crowdsourced data initiative by online magazine Slate and the Twitter feed @gundeaths.
There are about 13,000 to 14,000 murder and non-negligent manslaughter victims each year, based on FBI data. In each of the past five years, guns have been used in roughly two-thirds of all homicides. That means about 5,000 deaths in the first six months of the year is typical.
The incidents since Newtown include 10 mass shootings that killed 44 people. The most recent came last week at Santa Monica College in California, in which a gunman killed five people. The FBI defines a mass shooting as one in which four or more people die, not including the perpetrator.
Four people - including the gunman - died in a murder-suicide shooting Thursday in St. Louis.
The Sandy Hook shootings came less than five months after a midnight attack at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., killed 12 people and jump-started a national conversation on guns and mental health. Legislators in Connecticut, Colorado, New York and Maryland responded quickly: Proposals in three states limited access to the kinds of military-style weapons or ammunition used in the shootings. In New York, new legislation forced owners to register these weapons for the first time. All four governors signed the bills into law.
Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, says Connecticut and New York already had strong gun laws. But Maryland and Colorado took much bigger steps post-Newtown: Maryland strengthened a "toothless" gun-dealer licensing system and for the first time this October will require Marylanders to tell police if their guns are lost or stolen. In Colorado, a new universal background check is "an important milestone," Webster says.
Both states, he says, approved measures "to keep guns from dangerous people. That's what I think is most significant since Newtown."
Takirra Winfield, a spokeswoman for Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, says there was " a sense of urgency to do this and get this done."
Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association, says the four states are post-Sandy Hook outliers that "got it wrong" in protecting citizens from gun violence. "The rest of the country is looking at this from a more pragmatic view," he says. "They're looking at it from a standpoint as to what really works."
That includes measures such as Arkansas' Church Protection Act, which prohibits churches or other places of worship from "determining who may carry a concealed handgun" inside, or a Mississippi law that drops the concealed-carry age from 21 to 18 for soldiers and veterans. In all, 30 governors have signed weapons measures since Newtown, according to an analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
President Obama met Thursday with relatives of the Sandy Hook victims to thank them for urging Congress to pass new gun laws.