2018 Brought A 'Tectonic Shift' In The Gun Control Movement, Advocates Say More than half the states passed dozens of gun control measures in 2018, including what are known as "red flag" laws, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
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2018 Brought A 'Tectonic Shift' In The Gun Control Movement, Advocates Say

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2018 Brought A 'Tectonic Shift' In The Gun Control Movement, Advocates Say

2018 Brought A 'Tectonic Shift' In The Gun Control Movement, Advocates Say

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NOEL KING, HOST:

2018 was another year of devastating mass shootings and another year of debates about gun control. Before we get to this story - as we've often said over the course of this year while reporting on mass shootings, there is some disturbing audio in this piece. Last week, the Trump administration moved to ban bump stocks. Those are devices that make semi-automatic weapons fire much quickly. It was a victory for gun control advocates, who also successfully pushed states to enact dozens of gun control measures. As NPR's Melissa Block reports, advocates link that legislative success to a specific turning point.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: That turning point came early in 2018.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: Help, please. Please, they got a gun.

BLOCK: February 14, Valentine's Day.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED EMERGENCY DISPATCHER: I'm getting a school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: (Crying) Please hurry, please hurry, please hurry.

BLOCK: A shooter killed 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Within three months, there was another mass shooting at another high school, this one in Santa Fe, Texas. Ten people were killed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #2: All we heard was, run, run. And next thing, you know, we hear, boom, boom, boom.

BLOCK: And on it went - 11 worshippers killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh; 12 killed, plus the shooter, at a bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif. The mother of one of those victims made this plea.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SUSAN ORAFANOS: And I don't want prayers. I don't want thoughts. I want gun control, and I hope to God nobody else sends me any more prayers.

BLOCK: So what about gun control in 2018? Well, in Florida, nicknamed the Gunshine State (ph), new laws came quickly. Just a few weeks after the Parkland shooting, Republican Governor Rick Scott, who previously had an A-plus rating from the NRA, broke with the group and signed a package of new gun restrictions.

ALLISON ANDERMAN: I was very surprised.

BLOCK: Allison Anderman is managing attorney with the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

ANDERMAN: To pass a package of bills that included an extreme risk protection order, raised the minimum age to purchase guns, prohibited bump stocks, extended waiting periods - I think, was tremendous.

BLOCK: And soon after that, the Republican governor of Vermont, another gun-friendly state, signed the most extensive gun control measures that state has seen. The Giffords Center says 2018 marks a tectonic shift, with more than half the states passing dozens of new gun control laws. Contrast that with 2013 after the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., when states passed more laws loosening gun restrictions rather than tightening them. Allison Anderman credits a lot of this year's momentum to the student activists from Parkland.

ANDERMAN: They have brought such a level of passion and a new voice, a voice from a younger generation that is saying, look at what you have done to us, America. You have put us in harm's way, and we are not going to stay silent.

BLOCK: Another dramatic shift in 2018 - in this election cycle, gun control groups outspent gun rights groups for the first time ever. And Democratic congressional candidates successfully campaigned on a gun control message.

KRIS BROWN: Now it's a different world.

BLOCK: Kris Brown, president of the Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence (ph) says, with a Democratic majority poised to take power in the House of Representatives...

BROWN: We have individuals elected who are committed to changing this issue and many of whom feel that they've been elected with a mandate to make this a top priority. That is a sea change, and it's the beginning of something. It's not the end.

MICHAEL HAMMOND: I would be lying if I said I thought it was a victorious year for us.

BLOCK: That's Michael Hammond, legislative counsel for the group Gun Owners of America, which bills itself as the only no-compromise gun lobby in Washington.

HAMMOND: We're the group that keeps the NRA honest.

BLOCK: Hammond points to some victories at the state level, including four states that expanded "stand your ground" and self-defense laws. But he's disappointed that the Republican-controlled Congress failed to pass one of the gun lobby's key goals - requiring states to recognize concealed carry permits from all other states. Now, he says, with Democrats in control of the House, the outlook is worse.

HAMMOND: It makes it impossible, I think, to pass proactive legislation.

BLOCK: In fact, Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker-designate, has vowed to make passing universal background checks an early priority. More gun control measures are likely to follow, and lobbyist Lawrence Keane will be among those working to defeat them. He's with the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents the gun industry.

LAWRENCE KEANE: I would expect to see an age restriction bill. I expect we'll see an attempt to ban modern sporting rifles again. But what can get out of the House and what can pass the Senate are two different animals.

BLOCK: Keane and other gun rights activists are heartened by one long-lasting effect of 2018, a strengthened conservative majority on the Supreme Court. With this year's confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, Keane concludes, the Second Amendment is in a safer place.

Melissa Block, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF TEEBS' "SHOOUSS LULLABY")

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