Has 9-11 Led to Relaxed Gun Laws?

Quietly and deliberately, gun rights supporters are waging a campaign to liberalize state laws governing concealed weapons, and they say Sept. 11 may have helped their cause.

Citing the public's interest in self-defense after the attacks on America, gun rights supporters say they notice a more welcoming environment for their bills in statehouses and among the electorate.

"Post 9-11, we've seen an increase in interest in firearms particularly for personal protection," said National Rifle Association spokesman Andrew Arulanandam. "It's a natural feeling that after 9-11, people want to be proactive and take necessary actions to protect themselves and their loved ones in these uncertain times."

Although it is unclear how successful their efforts will be, gun rights supporters are confident about passing many of the statutes currently pending in more than 25 states.

A 'Cynical Exercise'?

Gun control activists say these efforts are manipulative and take advantage of a national tragedy. "It's a very cynical exercise," said Luis Tolley, state legislative director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "We know if they succeed they'll try to eliminate all restrictions. The objective is to let people carry a gun wherever they want any time they want."

Gun control supporters also reject the idea that the electorate is clamoring for looser concealed weapons laws. A 1999 Harvard School of Public Health study of 4,400 adults found that 88 percent of those surveyed did not believe regular citizens should be allowed to carry guns in public places.

But Sept. 11 appears to have at least led more Americans to purchase guns. By the FBI's count, it conducted 455,000 more background checks for gun purchases in the six months since Sept. 11 than in the same period for the previous year. The FBI also conducted 130,000 more background checks than a year earlier for applications to carry concealed weapons.

"Anytime there has been an upsurge of crime or a belief Americans are less safe there's a certain tendency for gun purchases to increase," said Robert Spitzer, a gun-control expert at the State University of New York in Cortland. "People want to do something even though there is no direct connection between that action and the war against terrorism."

The current debate over concealed weapons revives a trend that swept state legislatures in the 1990s when dozens of states adopted measures to allow concealed weapons to some degree. In the 1980s, more than 40 states prohibited concealed weapons, but now, only six states do. In 13 other states, concealed weapons are allowed but with serious restrictions.

After the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and the subsequent national soul-searching over guns, gun rights supporters laid low a bit.

The State-by-State Strategy

Now, they are back, trying to make carrying concealed weapons legal in every state. In the states where carrying concealed guns is already legal, gun rights supporters are trying to loosen the laws to make it easier and cheaper to carry a gun in different locations, such as churches, bars and government buildings.

For example:

In Colorado, nearly three years after the Columbine shootings, legislators are considering a bill that would require county sheriffs to grant concealed gun permits to anyone of legal age who applies unless they have a criminal background or are mentally ill.

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