WASHINGTON — Despite the scrutiny of state gun laws following the February shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., state legislators across the country continue to work on scaling back gun restrictions this session.
The Kansas House passed a bill last month to allow concealed-carry permit holders to carry their weapons into any public building that doesn’t have “adequate security,” like metal detectors or security guards, and Oregon pro-gun legislators narrowly defeated a bill that would have banned guns on schools grounds, which included K-12 schools, community colleges and universities.
Virginia repealed its statute that blocked residents from buying more than one gun a month unless they got dispensation from the police, and Oklahoma legislators are likely to allow gun owners to visibly carry their now concealed weapons.
South Dakota lawmakers ventured the furthest in removing gun restrictions this session by voting to get rid of concealed-carry permit requirements and allow any state resident over age 18 with a valid driver’s license to carry a concealed weapon without undergoing the background check now needed for a permit. Under the legislation, law enforcement officers in the field would have had to assess whether the gun owner had a criminal background or mental illness history that would preclude them from carrying the gun.
“I believe this simply restores some of the constitutional rights for the citizens of South Dakota,” said state Sen. Larry Rhoden, during floor debate. The bill passed both houses and looked likely to become law. But after being persuaded by law enforcement officials, Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed it.
“This (bill) weakens the reasonable protections currently in place, and it could lead to confusion and to longer and more frequent detainment of innocent citizens who choose to carry a concealed weapon,” Daugaard wrote in his veto message. “The current process preserves Second Amendment rights while respecting concerns for public safety, in particular the safety of law enforcement officers who put themselves at risk to protect us.”
South Dakota would have been the fifth state to allow residents to carry concealed weapons without a permit, along with Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and Wyoming. With Daugaard’s veto, it looks as though no additional states will eliminate permits this year — New Hampshire’s House voted to eliminate permits, although Governor John Lynch has said he would veto the bill.
But legislation loosening gun restrictions is still gaining momentum, even in Washington. The national “right-to-carry” reciprocity act was just introduced in the U.S. Senate, which would allow any person with a valid concealed-carry permit to carry their handgun in any other state that issues permits. The National Rifle Association is heavily supporting the bill, which passed the House last year by a vote of 272-154.
Law enforcement officers across the country are becoming some of the loudest critics of eroding gun restrictions.
As the gun debate becomes more polarized among state and federal policymakers, advocates on both sides are also ratcheting up their efforts. Groups supporting gun control are calling for more local ordinances restricting gun ownership, while others are fighting to allow guns in schools, workplaces, courts and even churches.