In Campaign For Tougher Gun Laws, Advocates Focus On States Frustrated with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, gun control advocates have been focusing on changing state laws in recent years. It's a model similar to what worked for marriage equality in America.


In Campaign For Tougher Gun Laws, Advocates Focus On States

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When President Obama announced new gun control measures yesterday, he said they were needed because Congress has failed to address gun violence. Gun control advocates are also frustrated with Congress. That's why they have been focusing on changing state laws. And as NPR's Jeff Brady reports, they're succeeding.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Oregon is one state where gun control advocates won last year.


KATE BROWN: Today, it's my great pleasure to sign into law Senate Bill 941.

BRADY: That's Oregon governor Kate Brown last May. The new law requires background checks for private-party gun sales.


BROWN: There you go.


BRADY: At that ceremony, Brown made special mention of gun control groups that campaigned for the law.


BROWN: I also want to extend my thanks to the members of Everytown for Gun Safety, Americans for Responsible Solutions and the Brady Campaign.

BRADY: Supporters of stricter gun laws are starting to win more often at state capitals, and their opposition is taking notice. Kevin Starrett is executive director of the Oregon Firearms Federation.

KEVIN STARRETT: Oregon has been a blue state for a long time but a blue state that has passed virtually no gun control.

BRADY: Until now, says Starrett, what changed is money - lots of it. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pledged to spend at least $50 million of his own money to get tougher gun laws across the country. Some of that cash went to the Everytown for Gun Safety action fund. The group spent almost $800,000 on lobbying during Oregon's 2015 legislative session. That dwarfed the National Rifle Association and made the gun-control group the biggest spender in the state last year. And, Starrett says, there were lots of television ads, too.

STARRETT: When a New York billionaire comes to a state like Oregon with that much money, obviously it's a game changer.

BRADY: Aside from Oregon, gun-control supporters celebrated victories in other states last year. In October, Delaware became the ninth state to pass a law designed to prevent domestic abusers from getting guns. There were plenty of setbacks, too. Texas passed an open-carry law that allows handgun license-holders to carry their guns in visible holsters. Gun control advocates say what's important is now they're a force at state capitals that can begin to counter powerful groups like the NRA. Shannon Watts started the Moms Demand Action, which is part of Everytown for Gun Safety.

SHANNON WATTS: Finally, now that we have over three and a half million members and we have a chapter in every single state of the country, you know, we are going toe-to-toe with them. We are showing up at our state houses. We are pushing back against bad bills and supporting good bills.

BRADY: In her fight for tougher gun laws, Watts sees a model in the battle for same-sex marriage.

WATTS: This situation is very much like marriage equality in America. People felt like that happened overnight. But really there were activists on the ground for decades.

BRADY: Then, she says, states started approving gay marriage, and eventually it was made legal across the country. She predicts a series of state victories will eventually lead to stricter gun laws everywhere. That prospect has groups like the NRA preparing for battle. It looks like the next big fight will be in Nevada. Gun control advocates gathered enough signatures to put an initiative on next November's ballot that would require background checks for all gun sales in the state. Jeff Brady, NPR News.

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