July 17, 2017
Will the GOP-led Congress further loosen gun restrictions?

In April, Donald Trump became the first president in a quarter-century to speak at the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual convention, a sign that his views on guns align with those of the powerful gun lobby. While federal courts in late 2016 and early 2017 dealt blows to gun-rights proponents, a Republican-led Congress and the White House this year have begun rolling back Obama-era firearms restrictions. Several states are considering loosening gun-control policies, and two have enacted laws allowing residents to carry concealed firearms without first obtaining a permit or training. In Connecticut, families of some of the two dozen victims of the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre continue to pursue legal action against the maker of the gun used by the shooter.

First responders secure the area outside the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida after a shooting near the baggage claim area on Jan. 6, 2017. (Getty Images/Joe Raedle)   First responders secure the area outside the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida after a shooting near the baggage claim area on Jan. 6, 2017. Five tourists were killed in the attack by a single gunman. (Getty Images/Joe Raedle)

Mass shootings — those in which at least four people are killed — continued to make headlines in the United States during the past year.

The first six months of 2017 saw 174 mass shootings. 1 In January, a 26-year-old man shot 11 people, five fatally, at an airport in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Two months later, two men at a Cincinnati nightclub shot 17 people, killing one. 2

And in June, a gunman fired 60 shots at a congressional baseball game practice, injuring Republican House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise, a congressional staffer, a Capitol Police officer and a lobbyist before police shot and killed the shooter. Another officer suffered minor injuries in the incident. 3

But unlike after other past high-profile mass shootings, such as in Newtown, Conn., and Orlando — when members of Congress demanded new gun restrictions — federal lawmakers have proposed loosening gun laws, with bills that would let legislators always carry concealed firearms or require the District of Columbia to recognize out-of-state concealed-carry permits, among other proposals. 4

Despite the continuing violence, gun ownership is down compared to past years, and gun purchases appear to be slowing since Donald Trump, a gun-rights advocate, was elected president. Experts attribute the trends to gun owners no longer fearing increased firearms restrictions now that the GOP controls both Congress and the White House. 5 An October 2016 poll found that 39 percent of Americans have guns in their homes, a six-point drop from 2011. 6 Requests for FBI background checks for gun purchases were down for the first five months after Trump was elected president, compared to the same period one year before. 7

Meanwhile, the current political landscape appears to favor gun owners. Not only are Congress and the White House in Republican hands, but Neil Gorsuch, confirmed on April 7 to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, is a gun-rights proponent. Gun owners are expecting federal firearms restrictions to be loosened in 2017. “NRA members and supporters across this country are very pleased with what we’ve seen out of this administration so far,” says NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox.

Federal Changes

In one of his first actions as president, Trump signed legislation on Feb. 28 reversing an executive action by former President Barack Obama designed to keep guns out of the hands of about 75,000 mentally disabled Social Security recipients. 8 Obama had proposed the rule in response to the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, where a mentally ill gunman killed 20 first-grade students and six educators. 9 The rule had required the Social Security Administration (SSA) to provide the FBI’s national gun background check system with the names of Social Security recipients suffering from mental illness. 10

Gun-rights supporters said the rule infringed on Second Amendment rights. “It results in reporting people to the gun ban list that should not be on it,” Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said before the Senate voted to repeal the rule. “And it deprives those people of their constitutional rights without due process.” 11

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who had fought the repeal, said in February he did not know how to tell his constituents that in the four years since the Sandy Hook shooting Congress had “passed no law . . . to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of would-be shooters, [and] that today we are doing exactly the opposite.” 12

Then in March, the House passed the Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act, which would allow veterans to purchase guns even if the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has told the FBI they are mentally incompetent to own a weapon. The bill’s sponsor, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe of Tennessee, said that under existing procedures the VA is denying roughly 174,000 veterans due process. The bill would require a judge to rule that mentally incompetent veterans pose a threat to themselves or others before they can be denied a firearm, and would allow the FBI to retroactively delete background-check records on them. The measure’s chances in the Senate are unclear. 13

Esteban Santiago, the alleged culprit in the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting, is a veteran and had contacted federal agents two months earlier to tell them he was having “terroristic thoughts.” Authorities confiscated his weapon at the time, but returned it to him prior to the shooting. 14

Leaders of the Veterans Coalition for Common Sense, composed of former military officials who support the Second Amendment but want to keep firearms out of the wrong hands, told congressional leaders on March 14 the measure “would put America’s veterans who need our support the most in harm’s way by providing them with easy access to firearms.” 15

Republicans in both houses of Congress also have introduced bills that would force states to recognize concealed-carry permits granted in other states. Currently, all but 11 states and the District of Columbia recognize other states’ permits, according to the NRA. 16 Similar bills have not made it out of committee, but Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., sponsor of one of the current proposals, predicted in December that “passing it out of the House is not going to be a problem.” 17

Supporters of the measures say they would eliminate a patchwork of state gun laws. Opponents say the bills would put residents of states with stricter gun laws at risk because gun owners from other states might not qualify for a permit under the stricter state laws. 18

Congress also is considering legislation to make it easier to purchase gun silencers. The 1934 National Firearms Act requires applicants for silencers to undergo an FBI background check, submit a photo and fingerprints and pay a $200 tax. The process can take nine months or more. NRA-backed proposals in both houses would eliminate those restrictions, enabling applicants to be approved within minutes and allowing for rebates for their application fees. 19

Trump has not publicly endorsed the proposal, but his son, Donald Jr., told the Utah-based SilencerCo, in an interview last September, “It’s a health issue, frankly,” echoing supporters’ argument that the measure is needed to protect hunters’ eardrums. 20 Opponents say it would help violent criminals avoid detection. 21

'Constitutional Carry' Laws

In March, North Dakota became the 12th state to enact a “constitutional carry” — or “permitless carry” — law, which allows most state residents to carry a concealed handgun without a government-issued permit. Republican Gov. Doug Burgum signed the bill into law on March 23, saying it aligns with the U.S. and North Dakota constitutions. 22

New Hampshire, which already allows gun owners to carry guns openly without a permit, adopted a law allowing them to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. The legislature approved similar bills in 2015 and 2016, but former Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan had vetoed them. The state’s new Republican governor, Chris Sununu, signed the measure into law on Feb. 22. 23

According to the pro-gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, the number of states with permitless-carry laws has grown from two in 2009 to 12. So far this year, lawmakers in 27 states have introduced permitless-carry bills, according to the group. Through the third week of June, 20 of those states had rejected the proposals, and only North Dakota and New Hampshire had passed them. 24

Some legislatures passed permitless-carry bills, but governors vetoed the measures. In February, Montana’s Democratic governor, Steve Bullock, vetoed such a bill, calling it “an absurd concept that threatens the safety of our communities.” 25 In South Dakota, Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard did the same, noting that the state’s current permit process is “simple and straightforward, and permits can be obtained in a matter of minutes.” 26

In April, South Carolina’s House of Representatives passed a permitless-carry bill that would apply to residents and visitors. Charleston’s police department, South Carolina’s largest local police agency, responded with a social media campaign asking people to lobby their state senators against the measure. 27

Some states have expanded gun freedoms in other ways. Arkansas Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, for instance, signed a bill in March allowing gun owners who have received at least eight hours of training to carry firearms at sporting events and inside public buildings — including the state capitol. 28 But after pushback from officials at the NCAA Southeastern Conference, which includes the University of Arkansas, lawmakers approved a bill excluding sporting events, day care centers, the Arkansas State Hospital and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences from the earlier law, and Hutchinson signed it. 29

National Rifle Association members look over pistols in the Smith & Wesson display at the 146th NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits on April 29, 2017, in Atlanta. (Getty Images/Scott Olson)   National Rifle Association members look over pistols in the Smith & Wesson display at the 146th NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits on April 29, 2017, in Atlanta. (Getty Images/Scott Olson)

In May, Republican Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed legislation making his state the 11th to permit concealed guns on college campuses. It would exclude guns in faculty offices, child-care facilities, fraternity and sorority houses, dorms and buildings used for athletic events. 30 Professors at Georgia colleges and universities protested, saying campus security is sufficient, and some told the governor the law would “very likely prompt some faculty” to seek work in states that ban concealed-carry on campuses. 31

During the 2017 legislative session, 16 states considered bills to allow gun owners to carry firearms openly on college campuses, according to the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus, a gun control advocacy group. 32 Only two — Arkansas and Georgia — enacted such measures. 33

The Courts

In a landmark ruling in February, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Maryland’s 2013 ban on assault-style weapons. 34 The state’s Firearm Safety Act bans the sale, possession, transfer or purchase of 45 military-style weapons, as well as magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Maryland was among a handful of states that passed such bans after Sandy Hook.

The Fourth Circuit’s ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and Maryland gun owners, who said the ban violated the Second Amendment. In rejecting that argument, the court called the banned firearms “weapons of war” and noted that a 2008 Supreme Court ruling affirming individuals’ right to bear arms said assault-style weapons could be regulated. 35

If the NRA appeals the case and the Supreme Court accepts it, it would be the first involving assault-style weapons to come before the court. The justices have declined to hear challenges to similar laws in Connecticut and New York. 36

In late January, a U.S. district judge rejected a Kansas law — similar to eight other state laws — which said guns, ammunition and firearm accessories manufactured and kept in the state were exempt from federal regulation. 37 The case involved two men, one of whom had been convicted of making unregistered guns and silencers and another of possessing an unregistered silencer. The judge said both had violated the 1934 National Firearms Act, which allows the government to tax gun purchases and transfers and to require that weapons be registered. 38 Attorneys for the two Kansas men haven’t said whether they will appeal the decision.

In another February decision, the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a 2011 Florida law that barred physicians from asking patients if they had a gun in their home 39 The court said the law violated physicians’ right to free speech. 40 The court did uphold parts of the law, including one that prevents doctors from discriminating against patients who own guns. 41

In March, parents of murdered Sandy Hook students asked the Connecticut Supreme Court to reinstate a lawsuit against Remington Arms Co., maker of the AR-15 that Adam Lanza used in the massacre, as well as the gun’s distributor and the store that sold it to Lanza’s mother. The suit, which said Remington was negligent for selling a military-style weapon to civilians, had been dismissed in October 2016 on the grounds that the company was exempt from liability under the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. 42

In asking that the suit be reinstated, the victims’ family members cited a 1977 Michigan case in which the family of a 12-year-old boy injured by a pellet from a slingshot was allowed to sue the slingshot’s maker. The Michigan court allowed the case to proceed because the company had marketed the slingshot to young children.

Attorney Josh Koskoff, representing some of the Sandy Hook families, argued that Remington marketed the AR-15 to young, high-risk males with an interest in violent video games, ignoring “mounting evidence that the AR-15 had become the weapon of choice for lone shooters looking to inflict maximum casualties.” 43 Remington’s legal team submitted their responses on May 10. 44 The court is expected to take up the request this fall. 45


Chronology

 
2016
OctoberConnecticut Supreme Court judge dismisses a lawsuit against Remington Arms Co. filed by family members of children massacred in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
2017
JanuaryGunman kills five and wounds six at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida.… President Trump reverses Obama-era executive action that would have added 75,000 mentally disabled Social Security recipients to the national background check database for gun purchases.… Lawmakers in both houses of Congress introduce bills to ease process for purchasing silencers.
FebruaryMontana Gov. Steve Bullock vetoes a bill that would have allowed residents to carry concealed firearms without a permit.… Federal appellate court upholds Maryland’s 2013 ban on 45 types of assault-style weapons and on magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.… An appeals court overturns a 2011 Florida law barring doctors from asking patients whether they have a gun at home.
MarchHouse passes a bill that would block the Department of Veterans Affairs from declaring veterans mentally incompetent to buy a firearm unless a judge rules they pose a threat to themselves or others.… North Dakota enacts a law allowing residents to carry concealed handguns without a permit.… Arkansas enacts a law allowing people to carry firearms at sporting events and inside public buildings if they’ve received eight hours of training. A subsequent law excludes sporting events, day care centers and some other facilities after Southeastern Conference officials protest.… Families of Sandy Hook victims ask Connecticut Supreme Court to reinstate their lawsuit against Remington.
AprilTrump becomes first president in 23 years to speak at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention.… FBI background checks for gun purchases decline from year-before levels for fifth straight month since Trump was elected president.
MayGov. Nathan Deal signs bill making Georgia the 11th state to allow guns on college campuses.
JuneA gunman fires 60 shots at a congressional baseball practice, injuring Republican House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise, a congressional staffer, a Capitol Police officer and a lobbyist before being shot and killed by police. Another officer suffers a minor injury in the incident.
  

Footnotes

[1] “Mass Shooting,” Gun Violence Archive, as of July 10, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/nuj9enf.

[2] Sharon Coolidge, Cameron Knight and Bob Strickley, “2 arrested, facing murder charges in Cameo shooting, ‘more arrests to come,’” Cincinnati.com, March 30, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y8sj7yxw.

[3] “FBI says gunman James Hodgkinson acted alone in Alexandria shooting,” CBS News, June 21, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/ydfsumxj.

[4] Emily Cochrane, “After Scalise Shooting, a Twist: Lawmakers Want to Loosen Gun Laws,” The New York Times, July 9, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/yay6w8mg.

[5] Rudy Takala, “Gun sales slow following Trump’s election,” The Hill, Feb. 3, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/h4w88zx.

[6] “Guns,” Gallup, updated with data from Oct. 5-9, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/7p6s2ry.

[7] “NCIS Firearm Background Checks,” FBI, updated for April 2017, http://tinyurl.com/mwedd2f.

[8] Gregory Korte, “Trump signs bill reversing Obama rule to ban gun purchases by mentally ill,” USA Today, Feb. 28, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/y8ye5mgt.

[9] Merrit Kennedy, “Trump Repeals Rule Designed To Block Gun Sales To Certain Mentally Ill People,” NPR, Feb. 28, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/m2l5y84.

[10] Korte, op. cit.

[11] “Grassley: Social Security’s Gun Ban Regulation is Flawed Beyond Repair,” press release, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, Feb. 14, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/y7ps5pne.

[12] “Murphy Urges Senate Republican to End Ill-Conceived Plan to Weaken Background Check System,” press release, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, Feb. 14, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/yc3fn6co.

[13] Michele Gorman, “Guns In America: House Passes Bill to Allow Gun Sales to Mentally Ill Vets,” Newsweek, March 15, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/y9yh2rlz.

[14] Megan O’Matz, Deborah Ramirez and Paula McMahon, “Numerous red flags arose in months leading to Fort Lauderdale airport shooting,” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 8, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/com/y8sdg72l.

[15] See “Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act,” Congressional Record, March 16, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/ybpl8p23.

[16] “Gun Laws,” National Rifle Association, undated, http://tinyurl.com/zwcf6me.

[17] “Hudson Discusses Concealed Carry Reciprocity on Fox Business,” Fox Business News/YouTube, Dec. 7, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/ydcwxpjq.

[18] “Conceal carry gun bill would allow states to cross-honor permits,” Fox News, March 22, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/kzbmp5a; “Concealed Carry Reciprocity: Overriding State Public Safety Laws,” Everytown for Gun Safety, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/ybhwk8cr.

[19] Aaron Smith, “Gun silencer bills could mean big business for industry,” CNN Money, Feb. 21, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/hsv38dj; Beth Reinhard, “NRA Wants to Ease Laws on Buying Gun Silencers,” The Wall Street Journal, May 23, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/y7s4wql9.

[20] “SilencerCo One on One: Donald Trump Jr.,” SilencerCo., Sept. 25, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/y8ncujs7.

[21] Anita Kumar, “Gun enthusiasts want to make buying silencers easier. They have a friend in Trump Jr.,” McClatchy DC, March 29, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/y86bj9bv.

[22] “Bill Actions for HB 1169,” North Dakota Legislature, http://tinyurl.com/y8lx7ozh; “Burgum signs ‘constitutional carry’ bill into law,” press release, North Dakota Office of the Governor, March 23, 2017, httpS://tinyurl.com/mmoxzst.

[23] “New Hampshire: Governor Sununu Signs Constitutional/Permitless Carry Bill Into Law!” NRA-ILA, Feb. 22, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/ybuzvn4a.

[24] Everytown for Gun Safety.

[25] Holly K. Michels, “Governor vetoes bills related to concealed weapons, guns on federal property,” The Missoulian, Feb. 23, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/y8nye9dr.

[26] “Gov. Daugaard Vetoes HB 1072,” press release, Office of Gov. Dennis Daugaard, March 17, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/y7yp2a4e.

[27] Michele Gorman, “Guns in America: How South Carolina Police are Taking on the NRA and Constitutional Carry Legislation,” Newsweek, May 1, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/yb8xfmdq.

[28] Michael R. Wickline, “Arkansas governor signs bill expanding where concealed-carry holders can take guns,” Arkansas Razor-Democrat/Arkansas Online, March 23, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/ybvystvs.

[29] “SB 724,” Arkansas State Legislature, http://tinyurl.com/ydcy9rhg.

[30] Greg Bluestein, “Georgia governor signs campus gun measure,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 4, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/lzzw5p8.

[31] Rebecca Burns and Nate Harris, “Campus Carry Has Georgia’s Pro-Gun Governor in the Hot Seat Again,” The Trace, May 2, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/y9jr6r7x.

[32] Abby Jackson and Skye Gould, “10 states allow guns on college campuses and 16 more are considering it,” Business Insider, April 27, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/y7hk26fs.

[33] “Guns on Campus: Overview,” National Conference of State Legislatures, updated May 5, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/p5oey34.

[34] Mark Joseph Stern, “Appeals Court Rules that Second Amendment Doesn’t Protect Right to Assault Weapons,” Slate, Feb. 21, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/gw9co8z.

[35] Kolbe v. Hogan, 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, http://tinyurl.com/jstwewt.

[36] Robert Barnes, “Supreme Court refuses to hear challenge to Connecticut, New York weapons ban,” The Washington Post, June 20, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/y9gsv7em; “US appeals court upholds Maryland assault weapons ban,” The Associated Press (Fox News), Feb. 21, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/jdx9n5z.

[37] Roxana Hegeman, “Judge: Federal firearms regulations trump Kansas gun law,” The Associated Press, Jan. 31, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/h49ldda.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Rebecca Hersher, “Court Strikes Down Florida Law Barring Doctors From Discussing Guns With Patients,” NPR, Feb. 17, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/ht262m9.

[40] Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger, et al. v. Governor of the State of Florida, et al., 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, http://tinyurl.com/jqj75bw.

[41] “Appeals Court Rules Against State In ‘Docs Vs. Glocks,’ ” WLRN (NPR), Feb. 17, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/ha8bfrv.

[42] Dave Altimari, “Sandy Hook Parents File 1st Argument To Supreme Court In Gun Lawsuit Case,” Hartford Courant, March 1, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/yc3vrmvy.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Case detail for Soto v. Bushmaster, Connecticut Supreme and Appellate Court, http://tinyurl.com/y8m9fx27.

[45] Daniel Terrill, “Remington asks for extension to respond to Sandy Hook appeal,” Guns.com, April 21, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/yb8xu8sa.

About the Author

Ethan McLeod is a reporter and editor in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editorial assistant and assistant editor for CQ Researcher.

 

Document APA Citation
McLeod, E. (2017, July 17). Gun control. CQ researcher. Retrieved from http://library.cqpress.com/
Document ID: cqr_ht_gun_control_2017
Document URL: http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqr_ht_gun_control_2017
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