Gun rights groups, bolstered by safety concerns in the wake of Sept. 11, are turning to state legislatures to reverse bans or restrictions on carrying concealed weapons. And the efforts appear to be paying off.
The National Rife Association and Gun Owners of America, both organizations that support individuals carrying concealed weapons, are aiming squarely at laws in more than half the states. They want to reverse bans or lessen rigorous permit processes for concealed weapons, and they say that the Sept. 11 terror attacks have lent to their success.
"Since Sept. 11, people feel the need to protect themselves and their loved ones," said Randy Kozuch, the NRA's chief state and local lobbyist. "Nobody knows what future attacks will happen."
Opponents to gun laws say the new momentum has put them on the defensive, a switch from the era of the 1980s when at least 40 states prohibited concealed weapons. Today, only six states — all in the Midwest — have outright bans on concealed weapons and 12 have tough restrictions on permits.
"We are seeing a very large effort by the NRA to weaken concealed weapons laws across the country," said Luis Tolley, the Los Angeles-based state legislative director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "They want to let anybody carry any gun they want, anywhere they want, any time they want."
The Brady campaign, which has traditionally turned to Congress to legislate gun laws, is now redirecting its focus to state legislatures. It says some 28 states are considering concealed gun bills this year.
In Arizona, a House committee has endorsed a measure to 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 up to $50.
The South Carolina Senate is considering a bill that would relax residency requirements for concealed gun permits and allow people to carry weapons in state parks and churches.
Minnesota lawmakers want to scrap a law that requires people to prove employment or a safety need to local law enforcement before getting a permit for a concealed weapon. A new bill would let most adults get concealed gun permits after background checks and training.
Missouri House members are looking for the middle road after a proposition to allow concealed weapons failed in 1999. They are considering a bill that would allow concealed weapons in vehicles but toughen prosecution for firearms crimes.
Democratic Gov. Bob Holden has threatened a veto of any concealed weapons bills, but with supporters getting a real foot in the door in the legislature, he may be overruled.
"I hope that we do get the right to concealed carry," said Rick Salyer a civilian Army technician involved in the NRA and Western Missouri Shooters Alliance. "If it can be proven it's safe at one step, then later on you can say, 'If this worked, why don't we give them a little more freedom."'
The Associated Press contributed to this report.