World and Nation

At State Level, Lawmakers Increasingly Try to Limit Guns

State lawmakers across the country are ramping up efforts to pass new restrictions on guns, following nearly a decade in which state legislative efforts have been dominated by gun advocates.

Much of the proposed legislation — some 38 states are considering gun-related bills — focuses on cutting off gun access to convicted criminals and the mentally ill and on improving methods to trace guns used in crimes.

Underlying many of the efforts is an attempt to redefine the gun debate as a law enforcement issue, rather than one that focuses on broad-based gun ownership, to sidestep prickly Second Amendment concerns.

“The key thing is that we want to protect Second Amendment rights,” said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-Calif., who has supported several bills that focus on guns used in crimes but not bills that would curtail ownership rights. “Democrats and Republicans can work together on this.”

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a prominent anti-gun group, has identified 52 bills it considers a priority for passage in 22 states, compared with 30 such bills two years ago.

“For years we were chasing the NRA’s tail,” Brian Malte, the group’s state legislation and politics director, said of the National Rifle Association. “But now we feel they are chasing our priorities.”

Still, the new efforts come as organizations like the NRA, the country’s biggest gun advocacy group, continue to wield tremendous influence in state capitals and are pushing aggressively for laws of their own.

Several legislatures are contemplating bills that would increase access to guns, including proposals to allow guns on college campuses or in the parking lots of workplaces.

The NRA is tracking 208 pieces of gun-related legislation in 38 states, both proposed restrictions it opposes and other bills it supports, the highest number since the gun group began monitoring state laws in 2001.

Wayne LaPierre, chief executive officer of the NRA, said, “There has been a brick-by-brick restoration of the Second Amendment” over the past 10 years or so at the state level and that his organization continues to build upon it.

“It is one of the most uncovered, fundamental sea changes in American politics,” LaPierre said.

The catalysts for the latest round of legislation include a spate of high-profile gun crimes — at shopping malls, schools and universities and the streets of several large cities — and a new federal law that gives financial rewards to states that better share information about mentally ill gun purchasers.

The spike in lawmaking activity also comes against the background of a case before the Supreme Court that challenges the constitutionality of a ban on the private possession of handguns in the District of Columbia. Legal and gun experts said a ruling against the ban was likely to stymie additional efforts to limit rights on gun ownership — and could even embolden advocates of fewer restrictions — but might leave undeterred the pursuit of laws focused on illegal guns.