Policy

Orlando Massacre Renews Gun Debates Already Raging in States

Bills in California and several other states expected to be closely watched on the Hill

Joshua Knight pays his respects to the Pulse nightclub shooting at a memorial in front the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The Orlando nightclub massacre is expected to bring renewed attention to debates over proposed gun safety measures already raging in California and a handful of other states.  

California lawmakers will vote today on a dozen bills that would tighten the state's gun restrictions, which are already among the toughest in the country. A Washington state measure that would allow judges to temporarily block people with violent tendencies from buying handguns is expected to appear on the ballot in November. And voters in Maine and Nebraska will vote on measures meant to close loopholes in background checks required for gun purchases.  

Those measures are likely to be closely watched in Washington, D.C., where President Barack Obama renewed his calls for tighter gun laws this week after the Orlando killings and some lawmakers — mostly Democrats —  said they planned to respond with their own gun safety bills . But familiar fault lines have already emerged, highlighting the national division that has stymied Congressional actions after previous mass shootings.  

Gun rights advocates remain bitterly opposed to any restrictions on gun purchases, gun control experts say it is unclear whether the proposed legislation would prevent the next mass shooting, and Republicans in Congress focused their response to the Orlando shootings on counter-terrrorism measures — not gun control.  

In California this week, gun policy experts said that the laws already in place in the state might have made it more difficult for Orlando gunman Omar Mateen to collect the arsenal he used to kill 49 people and wound 53 others, the San Jose Mercury News reported. But they would not have prevented the carnage. Mateen used an AR-15 assault-style rifle, the same that was used in mass shootings in San Bernardino, Aurora, Colorado, and Newtown, Connecticut. That gun is typically loaded with a 30-round magazine. California bans anything larger than 10-round magazines, the paper reported. But Mateen would still have passed the state's background checks and been able to purchase firearms because he had never been convicted of any state or federal crimes or placed under any court-imposed restraining orders. The bills on the state Senate's docket Tuesday would make it more difficult to buy guns that could kill multiple people quickly, including a bill that would ban the possession of high-capacity magazines and a bill that would ban the sale of a type of assault weapon that is supposed to be easy to reload. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has also proposed a ballot measure that would make the state the first in the country to require background checks on ammunition sales.  

"There are logical steps we can take to prevent highly destructive weapons from getting into the wrong hands, responsible ways to do it, and we can take action now," Califronia Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, a Democrat, said in a statement quoted by the Los Angeles Times. Gun rights advocates said, however, that  rules and restrictions for law-abiding gun owners would not prevent the next mass shooting because the gun owners affected aren't the ones breaking the law, the Los Angeles Times reported.  

"Here you have an individual who was clearly intent on committing an act of terrorism and a hate crime, and we're focusing on the tool he used to do it, not his motivation," Craig DeLuz told the paper. He is the director of Public and Legislative Affairs for the Firearms Policy Coalition, which opposes the package of bills in California. Similar objections have been raised in other states and in Congress.  

The Washington state measure, designed to prohibit domestic abusers from buying guns, would allow family members or police to petition judges to put temporary holds on gun purchases for, " individuals who are at high risk of harming themselves or others," the Seattle's KING-TV reported. Advocates are still collecting the signatures required to put the measure on November's ballot.  

The measures in Nevada and Maine are modeled after one Washington state passed in 2014, Mother Jones reported. They are intended to close loopholes that allow buyers to avoid background checks by purchasing online or at a gun show. Eight states have passed similar laws.

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