Although the debate over stemming gun violence after the massacre in Newtown, Conn., is breaking down mostly along partisan lines in the nation’s statehouses — with several Democratic governors calling for stricter gun laws as most Republicans urge tighter security or revamped mental health policies — the handful of exceptions show the political and geographical complexities of the issue.
More than a dozen governors invoked the Newtown school shooting as they opened their legislative sessions in recent weeks with State of the State addresses, and most have weighed in on the shooting in other forums. Several Democratic governors, mainly along the East Coast, are calling for banning some semiautomatic weapons or large capacity magazines, while several Republican governors have urged other measures, noting their opposition to more restrictive gun laws. But the state-level debate has not always followed party lines.
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Republican who is mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, recently noted that he had long supported his state’s existing laws, which he described as “some of the toughest gun control measures in place in the country.”
Gov. Mark Dayton of Minnesota, a Democrat, was quoted after the shooting as saying that his “reading of the Constitution is that it provides a complete permission for any law-abiding citizen to possess firearms, whichever ones he or she chooses, and the ammunition to go with that.” And another Democrat, Gov. Mike Beebe of Arkansas, is likely to sign a bill working its way through the state’s Republican legislature, which he was neutral on, that would allow people to bring concealed handguns to churches that choose to allow them.
But in many states, the contours of the debate are following familiar party lines. Democratic governors in Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland and Massachusetts are among those calling for stricter gun laws, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York has already won the passage of the sweeping gun measures he sought after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Many Republican governors, meanwhile, are making it clear that they oppose new restrictions on guns. In many states, governors are raising the issue in their addresses to lawmakers.
“Who can watch the sad images of the last several weeks, who can see the pictures of those young faces, and honestly say that we are doing enough?” Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, a Democrat, asked in his State of the State address last week. O’Malley urged state lawmakers to ban the sale of “military-style assault weapons,” require licenses for buying handguns, bolster mental health treatment and information sharing and spend more on school security.
Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, a Republican who took office this year, said in his speech that he would seek additional money in the state budget for “a comprehensive school safety review,” but made it clear that he would oppose limiting access to guns.