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Can Blue Cities In Red States Enact Effective Gun Restrictions?

Late one Saturday night, one of Savannah, Georgia's moss-draped squares exploded in gunfire. Eleven people were wounded; none died. Four people have been arrested.


A larger question looms for cities like Savannah, a mostly Democratic city in a Republican-led state. As gun laws ease and weapon production increases, what role, if any, do local lawmakers have in making sure people handle weapons responsibly?


In April, Savannah’s City Council made it illegal to store a gun in an unlocked car; some 233 guns were stolen from cars last year.


State and local officials are increasingly at odds over which gun laws – if any – will improve citizen safety. One divide: whether states will even allow cities to try some policies on their own, the Christian Science Monitor reports.


One man has sued Savannah, citing a law that allows citizens to sue cities that enact gun ordinances. The state has removed any permitting and training requirements for public gun carry. Meanwhile,


U.S. manufacturers made 11 million guns in 2020, twice the number a decade earlier, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “When you allow [weapons] to be everywhere, you can’t be surprised when they show up,” Says Savannah Mayor Van Johnson.


The struggle to address evolving norms around guns is particularly challenging for blue cities in red states, where looser state laws are shackling municipalities’ ability to address public safety around guns.


Forty-two states, covering 72% of the U.S. population, have “right to carry” laws that allow people 18 and older to carry a gun without a concealed weapons permit training.  


That has left cities struggling with how a permissive gun culture can lead to community-shattering results.


“Cities ... understandably want to fight back against that,” says Adam Winkler, a professor and author of “Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right To Bear Arms in America.” 


In states like Georgia, about 20% of gun owners carry their guns with them. Georgia law does bar those who have felony convictions from carrying guns. It also allows law enforcement to report specific mental health records into the background check system.


“One way around the ... impasse between gun violence and enacting stricter gun laws is to have flexibility at the local level,” says Robert Spitzer, author of “The Gun Dilemma: How History Is Against Expanded Gun Rights.” “It’s short-sighted of the Georgia state government to not let Savannah do some of these things,” he says.

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The looser the state’s gun laws, the less effective a city’s regulations will be, says Stanford University law Prof. John Donohue. Passing even marginal restrictions can yield benefits, he says. That seems to be the direction many cities are going. In the process, they are testing state laws preempting local action and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that shifted defending gun laws onto the government.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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