Lawmakers from Arizona to Wyoming, the mountain region of Western movies and home to four of the five fastest-growing states, are moving forward with gun laws that would be among the nation’s most permissive, undeterred by the shooting of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords.
Arizona, where the shooting took place last month, is considering a proposal to allow firearms on college campuses. Wyoming’s Senate passed a bill to authorize residents to carry concealed weapons without a permit. Utah, which has a state flower and a state song, is poised to name a state gun: the Browning .45, a semiautomatic pistol and precursor to the Glock handgun that killed six and injured 13, including Giffords.
Westerners have long regarded guns as tools for hunting and self-protection rather than instruments of crime, said Janalee Tobias, 47, the founder of Utah-based Women Against Gun Control. Even horrifying incidents such the Giffords shooting aren’t likely to change that, she said.
“Let’s just acknowledge it, there’s a huge difference between Easterners and Westerners,” Tobias said in a telephone interview from her home near Salt Lake City. “I would attribute it in the West to open space. We know that we’re on our own.”
FBI records show gun demand last year outpaced population in the intermountain states, which are bordered or ringed by the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada and Cascades. Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, which make up 8 percent of the U.S. population, accounted for 10.5 percent of federal background checks for gun sales.
Firearms checks in the eight-state region rose 21 percent to 1.51 million from the previous year, Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics show. Nevada, followed by Arizona, Utah and Idaho, had the biggest population increase in the past decade, according to the Census Bureau.
Gun retailers are required by law to contact the FBI for a check on prospective buyers before a firearm can be sold. The number of background checks doesn’t correlate one-to-one with the number of guns sold, due to variations in state laws and purchasing, the FBI said.
Nationwide, gun-buyer reviews increased 2.7 percent to 14.4 million in 2010. Weapons-maker Smith & Wesson Holding Corp., based in Springfield, Massachusetts, said revenue for the year ended April 30 rose 21 percent to $406.2 million, while sales at Southport, Connecticut-based Sturm Ruger & Co. Inc. gained 49 percent to $271 million in 2009.
“A lot of it had to do with the fear factor of having a president and a Congress who were not seen as friendly toward firearms rights,” said Bill Brassard, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms industry trade group in Newtown, Connecticut.
The $1 billion U.S. handgun market, based on analysis of production and excise-tax data, is a fraction of total gun sales. Excise-tax collections on firearms and ammunition sales rose 45 percent to $453 million in 2009, according to a Treasury Department audit last year. The federal government taxes pistols and revolvers at 10 percent and other firearms and ammunition at 11 percent.
The Utah state Senate approved a bill Feb. 10 to designate an official state firearm. Lawmakers’ choice, the M1911 pistol used by Humphrey Bogart in “The Maltese Falcon” and “Casablanca,” was designed by native son John Browning. Browning Arms, now a unit of closely held FN Herstal SA, based in Belgium, was founded in Utah in 1927. The bill awaits the signature of Governor Gary R. Herbert, a Republican.
Carl Wimmer, the state representative who sponsored the bill, said the Jan. 8 shooting in neighboring Arizona hasn’t recast the debate over Utah’s firearms laws. A 22-year-old Tucson man, Jared Lee Loughner, was arrested at the scene of the shootings that killed six and wounded 13, including Giffords, a supporter of gun rights.
“It happens every single time, without fail,” Wimmer said. “The groups or organizations that are anti-gun use these incidents to demonize the firearm. Stronger gun laws do not stop people from shooting people if they want to do that.”
“I think there would have been momentum for that here in Utah if it had not been for the shooting in Arizona,” said Valentine, a Republican. “It may come up again.”
Utah’s concealed-carry law was among the reasons the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a Washington-based gun-control advocate, rated the state as having the nation’s most permissive gun laws, said Paul Helmke, president of the group. He attributed gun-law easing in Utah, Arizona and Wyoming to the efforts of the National Rifle Association.
Last year, the NRA and other gun-rights groups spent $14 million on campaigns and lobbying, according to the Washington- based Center for Responsive Politics. Gun-control groups spent $185,000.
“They’re pushing to get more and more guns into more and more hands in more and more places,” Helmke said. “They’re finding that in the more rural, less-populated areas, they’re able to push their agenda more successfully.”
The NRA’s media office in Fairfax, Virginia, didn’t respond to phone messages and e-mail seeking comment.
To contact the reporter on this story: James Nash in Sacramento at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at firstname.lastname@example.org