How State Pre-Emption Laws Curb City Attempt to Pass Gun Legislation


Tucson, site of the 2011 mass shooting that nearly killed former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, is proving how tough it can be for localities to enact new firearms restrictions, reports the Wall Street Journal. The Tucson City Council advanced a measure on Tuesday that would require background checks on the sale of all guns on city property, an attempt to regulate firearms sales at gun shows held at the Tucson Convention Center. Supporters predict gun-rights advocates will sue to invalidate the measure under Arizona state law. The vote is the latest chapter in a tussle between the City Council and state lawmakers over gun laws. City officials have moved several times to tighten local restrictions on the sale and possession of firearms, only to see state officials exercise their sweeping authority over gun laws to invalidate the efforts.

The National Rifle Association began lobbying statehouses decades ago to adopt so-called pre-emption laws that limit the ability of cities and counties to regulate firearms. In 1979, seven states had laws that either fully or partially blocked municipalities from regulating guns; that number had reached 45 states by 2005, says Kristin Goss, a Duke University professor and the author of “Disarmed: The Missing Movement for Gun Control in America.” Now, gun-rights advocates are aggressively using those laws to roll back gun restrictions or prevent gun-control groups from passing local laws. The gun-rights group called the Second Amendment Foundation is picking through municipal codes around the nation for gun regulations that violate state pre-emption laws—and threatening to sue if the local rules aren’t repealed.

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