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Gun Forces Move Fight to Local Level

Gun control advocates who concede they have less sway with the Bush administration haven’t given up the fight for more aggressive laws at the local and state levels.

But where some advocates are fighting for tougher regulations, proponents of additional gun rights are scoring their own victories, creating a battleground on local and state turf.

"Today, the administration is not driving an anti-gun agenda," said David Kopel, research director for the Independence Institute in Colorado, who says the activity has shifted to the states, especially over new "concealed carry" laws. "It's going on in a bunch of places."

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a gun control advocate, agrees that the movement has shifted to the local level.

"It's more strategic," he said. "It's more of a localized fight right now."

Schiff said national gun control groups have also shifted the fight, and are concentrating on facilitating grassroots efforts in places where gun control is welcome.

For instance, in Northern Virginia local governments are currently battling the state over whether they can pass bans on guns in 100 parks and recreation centers. They might run into trouble since Virginia, like 40 other states, prohibits local gun control measures.

In California, municipalities won the right to shut down gun shows on private property after the state Supreme Court ruled in their favor. The matter, however, is still pending in a federal appeals court.

In New York City, Democratic Councilman David Yassky has proposed a bill that would give victims of gun violence the right to sue gun manufacturers who don’t follow specific safety agreements.

But the proposal is one that is currently up against a much larger force. In one of its few gun-related activities, the U.S. Congress is currently considering passing a pair of bills that would prevent local municipalities and states from filing lawsuits against gun manufacturers.

Likewise, some efforts to change local laws may be preceded by state efforts. In Ohio, the first district court just ruled that a ban on concealed weapons is unconstitutional. The ruling, which only applies to Hamilton County, is likely to head to the state Supreme Court, and is acting as a proxy for a statewide legislative debate on concealed weapons. A measure already passed the House to overturn the ban and was on its way to the Senate when the Senate president suggested waiting until a ruling from the state high court.

Eleven states already permit local law enforcement the discretion to issue concealed carry permits. Missouri and Kansas, two of six states with bans on concealed weapons, are currently considering changes to the law that would bring them in line with 33 states that currently allow citizens to carry concealed guns with a simple license. It's unlikely any local laws would supersede state rules.

"In every midwestern state where this debate is occurring, the opponents are holding on by their fingernails," said Kopel.

But gun control advocates haven't given up the fight. Amy Stilwell, a spokeswoman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said this week that her group has beat back concealed carry efforts by the pro-gun rights lobby in Colorado and Wisconsin, and continues to fight efforts to weaken existing state gun laws.

The Brady Campaign has defeated efforts in Georgia, Tennessee and in Utah, where legislators wanted to relax training requirements for gun owners, and gun control advocates are also targeting bills in Arizona, South Carolina and Minnesota.

National Rifle Association officials say such efforts undermine their own intentions — reducing gun violence — since data suggest communities with concealed gun laws have lower crime rates.

With the movement working from the bottom up, Schiff said it will become more difficult for gun control advocates to legislate at the federal level.

"We recognize that in some districts, candidates who support gun control are not going to be viable," he said.