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US Candidates Target Gun Control Issue as States Relax Laws

  • Wayne Lee

FILE - Scott Smith, a supporter of open carry gun laws, wears a pistol as he prepares for a rally in support of open carry gun laws at the Capitol in Austin, Texas, Jan. 26, 2015.

FILE - Scott Smith, a supporter of open carry gun laws, wears a pistol as he prepares for a rally in support of open carry gun laws at the Capitol in Austin, Texas, Jan. 26, 2015.

If campaign promises are anything to go by, the issue of gun control will be a priority for the next president of the United States.

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton has said repeatedly on the campaign trail that furthering gun restrictions would be one of her top priorities if she wins the general election in November.

In contrast, Donald Trump, the billionaire real-estate mogul and presumptive Republican nominee, has made gun ownership a key part of his campaign platform.

Regardless of who is residing in the White House next year, the issue of gun rights may have shifted to the state level where battles to weaken gun laws, particularly relating to ownership, are raging.

The gun lobby introduced bills in 2015 to allow citizens to carry concealed firearms in public without a permit in 21 states, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Gun lobby gains

The efforts produced favorable results for the gun lobby in the past year, as more than a dozen states either relaxed gun ownership laws or introduced new ones.

In West Virginia, for example, people can now carry concealed handguns without a permit or any firearm training and, in many cases, do so without a background check. The new law has police there concerned about the safety of fellow officers and citizens.

"I'm certainly not an advocate of everybody toting a gun and walking down the street," Karen Shoemaker, Vice President of the West Virginia Chief's of Police Association, told VOA News. "We feel we are at a disadvantage. Anybody and everybody can carry a weapon concealed now."

Shoemaker is also chief of the Keyser Police Department in West Virginia.

Shoemaker is a firm believer in Second Amendment rights, but also feels that a burden of responsibility comes with those rights.

Violent crime stats

The tension between the law enforcement community and the gun lobby is unfounded, according to Larry Pratt, Executive Director Emeritus of Gun Owners of America.

"Violent crime has actually gone down" in states with concealed weapons laws, Pratt said in an interview with VOA News. "Over the last 20 years, there's been an increase in the number of people owning guns, and yet we have found a decline in the violent crime rate. So these concerns are more visceral than intellectual."

Mississippi, Georgia, Arizona and Idaho are among the states that have recently passed new gun legislation.

In West Virginia, where the new law became effective in June, the impact on police officers has yet to be determined.

"I guess we are just going to have to assume at this point that everybody we contact is going to be carrying a concealed weapon," Shoemaker said.

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