On a day when the nation woke up to face a somber new milestone for mass shootings in the U.S., it’s understandable that gun control supporters would be despondent. There’s seemingly little progress and an increase in the number of horrific mass shooting incidents.
In fact, one gun control advocate says there has been slow steady progress made at the state level. Mass shootings generate a lot of awareness and outrage. But the hard fact is that on average 93 people are killed each day by firearms in the U.S., whether intentional or accidental. And in the five years since the nation’s psyche was jolted by the massacre of 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., there have been notable gains in many states to combat the more routine causes of gun violence, such as keeping firearms out of the hands of those convicted of domestic violence.
“It’s a truism that no one law is going to prevent all gun violence,” said Billy Rosen, deputy legal counsel for Everytown for Gun Safety, a non-profit advocacy group formed in 2014 as a coalition of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Actress Julianne Moore has been one of Everytown’s vocal supporters.
“Days like today are those moments when everyone stops and thinks about these issues that we are thinking about every day,” Rosen said.
The horror that unfolded Sunday night in Las Vegas, when more than 50 people were killed and 500 injured when a gunman opened fire on a country music festival from a high-rise hotel, was undoubtedly enabled by Nevada’s lax regulations around firearms. The shootings outside the Mandalay Bay hotel surpassed the slayings of 49 people at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in June 2016, as the deadliest shooting incident in U.S. history.
Nevada is an open carry state, meaning that anyone can carry a gun in a holster — without a permit — so long as it is unconcealed by clothing. At the state level, Nevada also has a preemption law that bars cities and counties from enacting any curbs on access to firearms.
At the same time, Nevada is one of seven states that has approved mandatory background checks for gun purchases since 2013, in the wake of Sandy Hook. That brings to 19 the total number of states that require background checks.
Nevada also recently enacted a law that keeps those who have been convicted of domestic violence or have a restraining order against them from being able to carry guns. Nevada’s background check legislation has been passed but not yet fully implemented because of “intransigence” by some state officials, Rosen said.
According to preliminary media reports about the suspected shooter, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, a background check may not have been enough to prevent him from amassing what reports have described as an arsenal of rifles and ammunition used in the attack from his hotel room on the crowd gathered for the Route 91 Harvest Festival.
But the mere fact that red-state strongholds such as Nevada and Utah are among the 24 states to toughen up access to guns for convicted abusers and those facing restraining orders is a sign that attitudes are changing. The fearsome gun lobby led by the National Rifle Association has less sway at the state level than it does over Congress, Rosen said.
“It’s obviously true that at the federal level Congress has not yet been convinced that a majority of Americans want to see change here,” he said. “But we have seen tremendous movement at the state level.” He cited Republican governors such as Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Chris Christie of New Jersey who have embraced restrictions on gun access.
Among Everytown’s major policy goals is to push more states to enact laws that allow people to petition a court to demonstrate that an individual presents a significant danger to themselves or other people and should not be able to purchase guns. This is an important tool for people who are concerned that family members or friends are spiraling out of control, as is often stated after a shooting.
“Our focus is on how to stop people who are going to be dangerous from getting guns in the first place,” Rosen said. “Even one gun in the hands of someone who wants to do harm can do a lot of damage.”
There is no good that comes from a tragedy like the Las Vegas massacre. But it does have the effect of raising awareness of what is possible when it comes to legislation.
“It’s hard. It’s depressing and it makes you angry,” Rosen said, referring to mass shooting incidents. “I do think that more and more people are starting to ask questions about legislation. We’ll see what our legislators have to say about it and we’ll hold them accountable.”