Guns and corrections are two of the top 10 issues expected to be debated in state legislatures this year, says Governing magazine. The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last June that established a private right to own firearms left some room for gun opponents to make a new case before legislatures. Brian Malte of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence believes the case could help the cause of gun control. Now that the court has said guns can’t be banned entirely, the NRA can’t cast milder restrictions on gun ownership, such as safe-storage laws, as steps toward government taking people’s guns away. For the first time in years, gun-control advocates are on offense in legislatures. They’re pushing for expanded background checks for gun buyers and for “microstamping” firearms – technology making it possible to identify the gun that fired a bullet.
On corrections, budget crises have a way of making the politically impossible suddenly possible. Prison populations have grown at a far faster rate than the population as a whole. Nowhere is the problem more pronounced than in California, which faces an $8 billion federal court order to improve health care for prisoners. Some states have been stressing alternatives to incarceration, in the belief that rehabilitation programs would prove more effective. The tenor lately is about cutting costs, and quickly. Pennsylvania and Kentucky expanded early release programs last year. Even in conservative South Carolina, the corrections chief is asking legislators to approve early releases. Brad Williams of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce hopes Michigan – which spends more on corrections than on higher education – will join the trend. The chamber is getting involved in corrections policy in the hopes that changes can stabilize the state budget and make business tax cuts possible. Williams wants a commission to overhaul sentences. He’d also like to see prison food services privatized, and to remove political appointees from parole boards, because career employees are more likely to grant parole.