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More Democratic States Enact Assault Weapon Bans

Jay Inslee was voted out of Congress in 1994 after he voted for an assault-weapons ban, marking the beginning of a long period during which prohibitions on any type of guns were considered a third-rail of electoral politics. Last month, Inslee, now the governor of Washington, signed a state assault-weapons ban, illustrating a shift on the issue in Democratic-controlled states after a string of mass shootings. “This is now an electorally winning issue,” said Inslee. “This avalanche of shootings…that drip of America’s life at the altar of the AR-15, people have just had a belly full of it.” Over the past year, Illinois and Delaware have passed bans, which block the sale and manufacture of AR-15-style rifles like the one used to kill eight people this month at a Texas mall. Similar legislation is being reviewed in Rhode Island, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The last states to pass such a ban were Maryland and New York in 2013, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Connecticut strengthened its law that year. Ten states, all heavily Democratic, now have an assault-weapons ban. The issue is another dividing Democratic and GOP-led states in the U.S., as partisan control of state governments has become more common. State bans prohibit new sales of semiautomatic weapons like AR-15s and AK-47s by name. They also typically prohibit semiautomatic weapons with detachable magazines and specific features like a pistol grip or flash hider. Gun-rights advocates argue that such firearms shouldn’t be called “assault weapons” that describe military weapons capable of automatic fire. Gun makers have changed the names of products or removed offending features to keep selling them in states where such prohibitions exist. In 2021, firearm violence researchers found that state assault-weapons bans weren’t associated with lower rates of mass shootings. The researchers said laws limiting magazine capacity were associated with lower death and injury tolls in mass shootings. Amy Hunter of the National Rifle Association said assault weapon bans "are unconstitutional and do not stand up to scrutiny from the courts.”

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