Most States Restrict Local Governments From Passing Gun Reform, Study Shows

The study out of the American Journal of Public Health found that many U.S. states have preemptive measures that do not allow for local communities to pass their own gun laws but do have laws to keep gun reform controlled at a state level.

People are led out of a King Soopers grocery store after a shooting in the store March 22, 2021, in Boulder, Colo. (Hart Van Denburg/Colorado Public Radio via AP)

(CN) — The majority of U.S. states have passed laws to keep gun-control policies up to states, but have not passed substantial statewide firearm policies, according to a study to be released in the July issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Though about 38,000 people a year die as a result of firearms in the U.S., the study shows that nearly 40 states have restricted their local governments from enacting any gun-control laws in their communities.

The study’s lead author Jennifer Pomeranz, professor at NYU’s School of Global Public Health, says that is nothing new.

“The firearm industry was one of the first to use preemption as a tool to block public health policymaking in local areas where enacting measures would have been politically feasible,” Pomeranz said in a statement. “Cities have been trying to pass their own laws to protect their residents from gun violence — including Boulder, the site of a tragic mass shooting in March — only to be thwarted by state governments.”

Looking at gun laws across all 50 states from 2009 to 2018, the study found that five states had passed over two gun control laws, including California and Maryland, while states such as Wisconsin and South Carolina actually repealed two gun control measures.

The study noted that nine states had passed one new gun rights measure, and one state — Wisconsin — had passed two.

Over the 10-year period, states relatively stayed the same with how many preemptions they had enacted, with 31 states having 44 measures in effect, while other states like Arizona and Alabama had 47 preemption measures in place. Only 9 states have fewer than 39 measures, and five states, including New York and Hawaii, have no preemptive measures in place.

“Our study provides direct evidence that the vast majority of states use preemption to support gun rights and remove communities’ authority to enact gun control protections,” said Pomeranz in a statement. “States that block the ability of local governments to pass gun laws but do not enact protective measures themselves create a regulatory void and eliminate localities’ ability to protect their communities.”

The study did discover a dramatic increase in one state policy — punitive preemption measures. These types of measures allow for the state attorney general and organizations like the National Rifle Association to sue local governments who violated preemptive measures.

In 2009 only two states had punitive measures, but by 2018, 15 states had such measures, including Alabama, Florida and North Carolina.

Pomeranz said punitive measures give too much power to the firearm industry.

“The firearm industry has helped to create a national framework that almost universally blocks local gun control measures, and in some cases even punishes local officials for engaging in the democratic process to address the needs of their communities,” Pomeranz said in a statement.

The study points to the National Academy of Medicine that has argued that states should enact minimum public health standards to allow localities to engage in policy making in order to help their community. Only one state, Illinois, has enacted such standards as it pertains to guns.

The study suggests this may be due to the high rate of gun violence in Chicago, which is contributed to by gun trafficking from nearby states with strong gun rights laws and weak gun control laws. 

Pomeranz also adds that local governments may want to enact gun control measures, but the states have made it quite difficult.

“Despite numerous mass shootings and public outcry, little has changed in the national landscape of gun laws. While one might expect that cities and towns, especially places affected by mass shootings, would have enacted more gun control measures, the preemptive landscape likely made that impossible,” said Pomeranz. 

So far this year there have been over 16,000 firearm deaths in the U.S., and 215 mass shootings, according to Gun Violence Archives.

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