Gun legislation on the move in red, blue states

Bills advanced in GOP-controlled Indiana, North Carolina and South Carolina, and are being considered in Democratic-controlled Colorado, Michigan and Minnesota.
Minnesota House Majority Leader Jamie Long (D) speaks during the first day of the 2023 legislative session, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

Bills that would tighten or loosen gun restrictions are advancing in states across the country.

Democratic-led Minnesota and Michigan readied legislation to implement extreme risk order protection authority, expand background checks, and require firearm safe storage, while Colorado Democrats released a package of four bills that included expanding its red flag law.

The Republican-controlled legislatures in North Carolina and South Carolina advanced bills to get rid of permitting requirements.

The blue- and red-state split screen over gun rights is emblematic of the country’s political polarization.

“This issue engenders a lot of understandable passion,” Minnesota Rep. Dave Pinto (D) said in an interview.

In North Carolina, the House passed a bill last week that would repeal a current law requiring handgun purchasers to obtain a permit from a county sheriff. The legislature passed a similar measure in 2021, but Gov. Roy Cooper (D) vetoed the bill citing “rising gun violence.” Cooper is still the governor, and the bill is likely to languish in the legislature.

In South Carolina, the House adopted legislation last week to allow for open or concealed carry of a handgun without a permit. The measure also dropped the age to be able to carry a concealed gun to 18 from 21. Next stop is the state Senate, which rejected a similar bill two years ago.

“South Carolinians can still get the training they need. But they don’t need a permission slip to exercise that right,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bobby Cox (R).

Along with a red flag law expansion, the bills in Colorado would require that firearms purchasers are 21 years old, impose a three-day waiting period for purchases, and repeal protections shielding gun manufacturers from lawsuits.

The Minnesota legislature is considering three bills, including Pinto’s background check bill, which would require checks for private sales and transfers, a measure requiring the safe storage of firearms and ammunition, and a red-flag law.

Michigan Democrats introduced 11 related bills that would expand background checks, require safe storage and impose a red flag law.

Both Minnesota House Majority Leader Jamie Long (D) and Michigan Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D) said in interviews last week that, while they were unsure of exactly when their bills would get votes in their respective chambers, they were confident their Democratic majorities would pass the measures.

The bills in Michigan and Minnesota could get committee hearings as soon as this week. Part of the timing uncertainty was the storm that hit both states and caused the legislatures to close for the week.

Michigan is still mourning the shooting at Michigan State earlier this month that left three students dead and five injured. Brinks held out hope that the 11-bill package might get some Republican support. But Democrats would move without their help, she said.

“The hardest part is done in some ways,” Brinks said, referring to Democrats winning control of the Michigan legislature and the agenda for the first time in decades.

Long was also confident of getting the bills to Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D), as Democrats control both chambers. “I do think that we’ll be able to pass those three bills through the Minnesota legislature this session,” Long said.

The Indiana House’s approval last week of legislation that would make certain gun accessories illegal under state law represents a rare example of a Republican-led body enacting measures to further regulate guns.

Under the bill, which was sponsored by a Democrat, accessories that turn a weapon into an automatic firearm — allowing the weapon to fire continuously as long as the trigger is held down — would be illegal. While such accessories are already illegal under federal law, establishing a state ban would make it easier for state prosecutors to crack down on such firearms.

Rep. Mitch Gore (D), the lead sponsor of the bill, said in a brief interview that he introduced the bill because the differing federal and state laws regarding the accessories caused confusion for police and prosecutors.

“We’ve seen just an insane rise in the use of these devices just in the last year or so, according to the Indiana Crime Guns Task Force,” Gore said. “And so I thought it was time to get on board and make sure we could charge these people in state court and hold them accountable.”

One way Gore, a Marion County Sheriff’s Office captain, said he smoothed the path for his bill to pass 68-24 was to characterize the measure as a public-safety bill. The measure also had GOP sponsors in the House and Senate, including the chairman of the committee of jurisdiction.

“Of course when you can get the chairman involved in a bill that helps quite a bit,” Gore said.