Stricter gun regulation may be tough sell

People brought flowers to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on Saturday.
People brought flowers to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on Saturday.

NEW YORK — The day before a gunman massacred 20 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.

That 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 announced that 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 shooting both supporters and opponents of stricter gun laws are asking whether the carnage might change the trend 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 that the shooting would be a catalyst for change.

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‘‘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,” said Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “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 only to see little or no legislative action. And as governors from around the nation condemned theshooting 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 Governor John W. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, shifted his position and announced that ‘‘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.

Otherwise, much of the initial reaction to Friday’s shooting hewed more closely to the contours established by past mass shootings in America. Mayors who have long pushed for more restrictive gun laws reiterated their call.

Some, but not many, Democratic governors echoed them. Opponents of gun restrictions condemned the shooting and expressed their condolences.

Republican officials, in their initial responses, generally said the killing calls for responses other than tougher gun laws.

Governor 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 on the shooting ‘‘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 reelection, its president, David A. 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 well be in states like Michigan, where the bill that would allow people to carry concealed weapons in school is being weighed by Govenor Rick Snyder, a Republican.

Don Wotruba, the 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 and analysis. 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.’’