Why it's getting easier to carry a gun in the US

In the past two years, firearm restrictions have been relaxed in 24 states

In many states across the US, it's getting easier to carry a gun – and many say it's the result of a campaign by the National Rifle Association (NRA). A nationwide review by Associated Press found that, over the past two years, 24 states, mostly in the south and west, have passed 47 new laws that relax gun restrictions.

Among other things, legislatures have allowed firearms to be carried in cars, made it illegal to ask job candidates whether they own a gun, and expanded agreements that make permits to carry handguns in one state valid in another.

The NRA, the leading gun- owners lobby in the US, has blocked attempts by Washington to tighten firearms laws for years, but has been increasing its efforts at the state level to chip away at gun restrictions.

"This is all a co-ordinated approach to respect that human, God-given right of self-defence by law-abiding Americans," says Chris W Cox, the NRA's chief lobbyist. "We'll rest when all 50 states allow and respect the right of law-abiding people to defend themselves from criminal attack."

Tennessee and Montana, for example, have passed laws that exempt weapons made and owned in-state from federal restrictions. Tennessee is the home of Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, the maker of a .50-calibre shoulder-fired rifle which the company says can shoot bullets up to five miles (eight kilometres). The rifle is banned in California.

There have been gun-friendly law changes in other states. Arizona, Florida, Louisiana and Utah have made it illegal for businesses to bar their employees from storing guns in cars parked on company lots. Some states have made handgun permit information confidential, and others have allowed handgun permits to be issued to people who have had their criminal convictions expunged or their full civil rights restored.

Associated Press compiled the data on new laws from a range of groups, including the Legal Community Against Violence, which advocates gun control, and the NRA. Public attitudes toward gun control have shifted strongly over the past 50 years, according to Gallup polling. In 1959, 60 per cent of respondents said they favoured a ban on handguns except for "police and other authorised persons". Gallup's most recent annual crime survey in October found 71 per cent opposed such a ban.

The NRA boasts that almost all states grant handgun permits to people with clean criminal and psychological records. In 1987, just 10 states did. Only Wisconsin, Illinois and Washington DC now prohibit carrying concealed handguns entirely. "The NRA has a stranglehold on a lot of state legislatures," said Kristin Rand, legislative director of the Violence Policy Centre, a gun-control group in Washington. "Basically, they have convinced lawmakers they can cost them their seats, even though there's no real evidence to back that up."

Tennessee's new laws came after the Republican takeover of the General Assembly this year, but most other states that loosened restrictions didn't experience major partisan shifts. Most of the states where the new laws were enacted have large rural populations, where support for gun rights tends to cross party lines.

While some states have tightened gun laws during the same period, the list of new restrictive laws is much shorter. In 2009 alone, more than three times as many laws were passed to make it easier on gun owners. New Jersey's 2009 law limiting people to one handgun purchase per month is the most notable of the more restrictive laws. Other examples this year include Maryland's ban on concealed weapons on public transport and Maine's vote to give public universities and colleges the power to regulate firearms on campus.

The most contentious of Tennessee's new gun laws was one allowing handguns in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. It took effect in July after lawmakers overrode a veto by the governor. Last month, a Nashville judge struck down the law as unconstitutionally vague, but supporters have vowed to pass it again. A similar Arizona law which took effect in September allows people with concealed-weapons permits to bring their guns into bars and restaurants that haven't posted signs banning the practice.

While Tennessee's law was in place, many bars chose not to let customers bring guns in. Likewise, more than 70 communities have opted out of allowing guns in parks. "People go in there and start drinking, and then they want to start a fight. What are they going to do if they got a gun in their hand?" said Larry Speck, 69, who works at an auto repair shop in Memphis. "I've got a gun permit and I'm not carrying mine in there, even if they have a law."

Academics are divided on the effects of liberalised handgun laws, and determining the impact is complicated by the move in several states to close handgun permit records.

A Violence Policy Centre project that surveyed news reports found that more than 100 people have been killed by holders of handgun-carry permits since 2007, including nine law enforcement officers.

The project originally intended to list all gun crimes by permit holders, but there were too many to keep track of, said Kristin Rand. "They shoot each other over parking spaces, at football games and at family events," Ms Rand said. "The idea that you're making any place safer by injecting more guns is just completely contradicted by the facts."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Digital Designer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity for someone wi...

Recruitment Genius: Building Manager / Head Porter

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Medical Copywriter / Account Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an awa...

Recruitment Genius: Transport Clerk / Debriefer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading temperature contro...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific