Has 9-11 Led to Relaxed Gun Laws?

In Arizona, legislators could reduce the maximum penalty for carrying a concealed weapon without a permit from a $2,500 fine and six months in jail to a fine of no more than $50.

In Virginia, a pending bill would allow citizens to carry guns into government buildings.

In Georgia, a measure that would have allowed concealed weapons into churches and bars was killed and amended to allow property owners to decide if guns should be carried onto their property.

In Tennessee, three bills are pending that would take away the fee for background checks to get concealed gun permits, make it easier to carry concealed guns in from other states, and would prohibit the public from knowing who has a concealed weapons permit.

The campaign to liberalize concealed gun laws is part of a strategy to expand their scope beyond the public's point of comfort without anyone noticing, gun control activists say.

"This is phase 2. It's a dirty little secret," Tolley said. "They were pushing these same bills in many states through the mid- and late-'90s, and then when Columbine happened they stepped way back. This year they have basically tried to re-up."

The NRA's state-by-state strategy makes sense, Spitzer says. Although the approach is more labor intensive than trying to get a bill through the U.S. Congress, the probability of success is far greater, he said. State political battles are much less visible than those on the national level, and rural and conservative forces tend to be more powerful in statehouses.

"The NRA does well when not under the hot glare of national politics," Spitzer said, "because most people don't support the agenda of the NRA, but those who do support it are 100 percent behind it," he said.

No Wild West, Despite Concealed Weapons

Gun rights supporters, for their part, say it is not manipulative and only reasonable to start out with more restrictive laws and relax them as the public grows more comfortable with concealed weapons.

During the debates over concealed guns in the 1990s, gun control activists argued that allowing citizens to carry weapons would lead to more gun violence and deaths.

"The horror stories about irresponsible behavior simply haven't come to fruition," said John Lott, author of More Guns: Less Crime. "In order to try to ameliorate some of that fear, you got these restrictions … now we are going to look at some of the restrictions we put in there. Gun control people lose credibility when people find out that didn't happen."

Florida's experience shows that allowing concealed weapons did not turn the state into the "Wild West," he said. Florida handed out 799,000 weapons permits between October 1987 and February 2002, yet only 146 were revoked for any type of firearms violation, including carrying firearms by mistake into restricted zones such as airports.

At the same time, though, there has been a near-consensus in law enforcement circles that keeping guns off the streets has been a critical element in suppressing crime in urban areas, Spitzer said.

"The NRA kind of argument is more guns on streets make for more safety, but the police argument is the opposite, fewer guns on the streets make cities more safe," he said.

With many state legislatures entering the final weeks of their current sessions, both sides are running out of time to line up their votes. But it is clear that the concealed weapons debate will carry over to the next session.

Gun control activists say their opponents will face uphill battles, even in states that should be prime NRA territory. "Take Nebraska, which is rural, with a lot of hunters," said the Brady Center's Tolley. "If the NRA is so powerful, why are they fighting in Nebraska?"

But the NRA is still confident. "The need [for loosening concealed weapons laws] comes from the electorate," says Arulanandam. "I think the electorate out there has taken personal security and placed a higher premium on it."

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