As the U.S. absorbs yet another mass slaughter, this one claiming the lives of children, supporters and opponents of stricter gun laws are asking whether the carnage might lead to change.
The day before a gunman killed 27 people, 20 of them schoolchildren in their classrooms, in Connecticut on Friday, lawmakers in Michigan passed a bill — over the objections of the state’s school boards — that would allow people to carry concealed weapons in schools.
The same day, Ohio lawmakers passed a bill that would allow guns in cars at the Statehouse garage. Earlier in the week, a federal appeals court struck down a ban on carrying concealed weapons in Illinois. And Florida officials said they would soon issue their millionth concealed-weapon and firearm license — or, as a state news release put it, the program would be “One Million Strong.”
In short, the legal and political debate over the nation’s gun laws was following a familiar trajectory: toward fewer restrictions. Now, as the country absorbs yet another mass killing, this one claiming the lives of children, supporters and opponents of stricter gun laws are asking whether the carnage might change that trajectory at the state or national levels.
As President Obama used his weekly Saturday address to repeat his impassioned but vague call to take “meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this,” some gun-control advocates said they hoped the shooting would be a catalyst for change.
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“We genuinely believe that this one is different,” Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said Saturday. “It’s different because no decent human being can look at a tragedy like this and not be outraged by the fact that it can happen in our nation. And because this time, we’re really poised to harness that outrage and create a focused and sustained outcry for change.”
But supporters of gun control sounded similar notes after other recent mass shootings — including one last year in Tucson, Ariz., in which six people were killed and a member of Congress, Gabrielle Giffords, was seriously wounded — only to see little or no legislative action.
As governors from around the nation condemned the Connecticut shooting and expressed sympathy for its victims, their first flurry of statements, from Democrats and Republicans alike, were far more likely to mention prayer than gun laws.
One exception was in Colorado, which had started a debate on gun laws after Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, shifted his position and said “the time is right” for state lawmakers to consider new restrictions.
Hickenlooper had been cool to the idea of stricter gun laws in the immediate aftermath of the July shooting that killed 12 people and injured dozens at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. On Wednesday, however, he suggested in an Associated Press interview that lawmakers should take up the issue in January and evaluate issues including assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that hold so much ammunition.
“I wanted to have at least a couple of months off after the shooting in Aurora to let people process and grieve and get a little space, but it is, I think, now the time is right,” Hickenlooper said, drawing criticism from officials who oppose gun restrictions, including some fellow Democrats.
Otherwise, much of the initial reaction to Friday’s slaughter hewed more closely to the contours established by past mass shootings in America. Mayors who have long pushed for more restrictive gun laws repeated their call. Some, but not many, Democratic governors echoed them. And opponents of gun restrictions condemned the shooting and expressed their condolences.
Gov. Rick Perry, of Texas, an outspoken supporter of gun rights, issued a statement asking the state’s school districts “to review their emergency-operation plans to ensure all schools are prepared to respond to potential threats like today’s tragic school shooting.”
The National Rifle Association, one of the most powerful interest groups in Washington and in statehouses across the nation, said it would not comment “until the facts are thoroughly known.”
But the group had been gearing up to oppose any efforts to tighten the nation’s gun laws. After Obama’s re-election, its president, David Keene, wrote: “We have to be prepared to fight him on each front, rally friendly elected officials, persuade those in the middle, and let all of them know that gun owners will not stand idly by as our constitutional rights are stripped from us.”
With gun-control efforts seen as unlikely in Washington, where the Republicans who control the House oppose efforts to tighten gun laws, the next frontiers of the debate may be in states such as Michigan, where the bill that would allow people to carry concealed weapons in school is being weighed by Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican.
Don Wotruba, deputy director of the Michigan Association of School Boards, said the group was calling on the governor to veto the bill.
“Putting children in closer proximity with more guns is a risk that shouldn’t be taken,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the governor, Sara Wurfel, said the bill would go through careful review. Asked if the school shooting in Connecticut would be a factor, she said in an email that the governor had said that “these situations always must and should give pause as they’re so tragic, but that we can’t jump to conclusions, either.”