Every year, state legislatures across the country consider bills that affect the rights of gun owners—for better or for worse. While folks usually keep up on developments in their own states, they often overlook what happens next door or on the other side of the country.
But all this legislation is critical to gun owners across the nation. What we see in California this year may come up in Colorado or Connecticut next year, or the year after. And it’s not just anti-gun schemes like “microstamping” that can spread from state to state. Pro-gun legislation like the Castle Doctrine, Right-to-Carry reform, and Idaho’s new protection for ranges and range officers can give gun owners new blueprints for reform in their home states.
Protecting an Individual Right
Last year’s Supreme Court decision in Heller v. District of Columbia made clear that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms. That right is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, as well as in 44 of the 50 state constitutions. The words of these state guarantees vary and so do court interpretations.
Now, the Kansas legislature has passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 1611 that proposes to amend the Kansas Constitution to make it clear that the state constitution—like its federal counterpart—protects an individual right to keep and bear arms. If Kansas voters pass the amendment in 2010, they will reverse a 1905 Kansas Supreme Court case—City of Salina v. Blaksley—that invented the idea that the right to keep and bear arms only applies to members of a government-organized force.
Law-abiding people should not be forced to flee from violent attack. “Castle Doctrine” laws are designed to make sure that you don’t get arrested or prosecuted if you’re forced to defend yourself or your family.
This year, Montana joined 23 other states that already have this vital NRA-backed protection. Montana’s H.B. 228 removes any requirement to retreat and protects armed citizens from prosecution. Tennessee also improved its laws by removing the prohibition against using deadly force in protection of property. In a similar area, Arizona moved to clarify its laws on “defensive display” of firearms.
One of the most important issues regarding Right-to-Carry is in the area of “gun-free zones”—places where honest citizens can’t lawfully carry firearms for self-protection. Too many states deny law-abiding people the right to self-defense in restaurants, parks or other public places, while criminals ignore the restrictions. Arizona, Tennessee, Idaho, North Dakota, Idaho, Utah and Virginia all made changes to reform their laws in this area in 2009. (For more on the fight in Tennessee and its aftermath, see Political Report, p. 104.)
We’ve also made important strides in protecting the privacy of concealed carry permit holders. Over the past few years, newspapers in Tennessee, Virginia, Arkansas and Ohio have printed lists of permit holders (often with home addresses), or posted the lists on their websites. These anti-gun news outlets claim they’re defending the “public right to know,” but ignore the rights of permit holders—including crime victims and high-profile citizens who don’t need their security measures publicized.
This year Alabama, Arkansas and Virginia passed laws that prohibit release of permit holders’ identities. In each state, only law enforcement officials will have access to the information and only for official purposes.
Anti-gun politicians often claim they don’t want to take guns away from law-abiding citizens. That, they say, could never happen in America. But the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina proved the hollowness of that claim. Hundreds of law-abiding citizens were disarmed, just when they most needed to protect their lives and properties. Since then, we’ve worked to make sure honest people are never victimized like this again.
This year, Alabama became the 28th state to prohibit seizure of firearms from law-abiding citizens during a state of emergency. Idaho also amended its emergency powers statute to prohibit restrictions on the sale, transfer, storage or use of guns or ammunition during an emergency.
One of the most insidious ways our opponents work to erode our rights is to get local governments to create a patchwork of confusing laws—many of which have already been rejected by state legislators. To prevent this, the NRA has long worked to pass laws that allow only the state legislature to regulate firearms. Yet anti-gun mayors and city councils often test these laws—as we’ve seen this year in Pennsylvania, where the NRA is now in court challenging illegal gun restrictions in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
In 2009, Nebraska and Virginia took action on the preemption front. In Nebraska, L.B. 430 limits the power of cities and localities to regulate the ownership, possession or transportation of firearms. In Virginia, a change in the law allows courts to award legal fees to people who prevail in lawsuits challenging unauthorized local laws. This reform sends a strong message that preemption laws are not to be taken lightly.
Hunting and Conservation
Our hunting heritage is a big part of our tradition of gun ownership. It’s also a vital part of our efforts to conserve and protect wildlife.
New Jersey legalized bow hunting on Sundays on private property and state game lands, providing a new opportunity for hunters in the Garden State. That’s another step toward repealing outdated bans and restrictions on Sunday hunting that still deprive working people of time afield in 11 states.
North Dakota and Nevada created new programs to let young people and novice hunters try out the sport. North Dakota also reduced the minimum hunting age from 14 to 12 during the youth hunting season. Changes like these are vital to the survival and growth of hunting because they help introduce a new generation to the outdoors.
Three states also took steps to create constitutional protection for hunting. The Arkansas and South Carolina legislatures voted to put constitutional amendments on their 2010 ballots to protect hunting from state or local infringement. Solid constitutional provisions will help protect hunting from attacks by extreme animal “rights” groups such as HSUS and PETA.
Our right to self-defense doesn’t end on the days when we have to work for a living. But this simple truth is ignored by businesses that fire employees for safely storing legally owned guns in their private vehicles.
This year, Arizona, Utah and Idaho passed laws to protect workers and the public from this kind of corporate restriction. Idaho’s new law protects employers from liability if they don’t prohibit firearms stored in private vehicles. Arizona and Utah took even stronger steps, directly protecting the right to transport and store firearms in privately owned vehicles while parked in publicly accessible parking lots.
The availability of safe shooting ranges is vital to the shooting sports, and (more importantly), to the exercise of Second Amendment rights. This spring, Idaho passed an innovative new law that may become a model for other states. The Idaho Sport Shooting Immunities Act will provide protection from reckless lawsuits, both for government entities that manage ranges and for the volunteers and professionals who operate them. These new laws will enable ranges to stay open, and should encourage government agencies to build more ranges in the future.
The Threat Goes On
While gun owners scored important victories in many States, the threat posed by anti-gun politicians goes on. In New Jersey, for example, anti-gun Governor Jon Corzine (D) won approval of a one-gun-a-month rationing law.
In many other states, anti-gun bills are still pending or were narrowly defeated, with ammunition issues a favorite focus. California lawmakers are still debating whether to prohibit the private transfer of more than 50 rounds of ammunition per month and Connecticut defeated a bill to require “microstamping” technology in all handguns. Georgia legislators defeated a bill to require handgun ammunition serialization.
In other issues, a so-called “assault weapons” ban is still pending in Illinois. Maine and Minnesota gun owners fought off bills targeting gun shows, while a New York gun show bill is still pending. And in Missouri, a bill was defeated that would have allowed guns to be confiscated without due process.
Unfortunately, anti-gun groups haven’t run out of schemes to undermine your rights. Fortunately, gun owners have responded with dedication and hard work to preserve the Second Amendment. That dedication will surely be tested again before the year is over.