DENVER -- As each new high-profile shooting roils the national debate over gun ownership rights, advocates for greater gun control are winning a measure of support from an unlikely source: Republican governors.
After several shootings in recent years, including the mass shooting in Littleton, Colo., in April, almost a third of the nation's 31 Republican governors have taken positions to strengthen gun control in their states.
Most of these governors, including Bill Owens of Colorado and Bob Taft of Ohio, were strongly endorsed in their last campaign by the National Rifle Association, which generally favors Republicans over Democrats and stronger enforcement of existing gun laws rather than new ones.
But as the dialogue over gun ownership slowly expands from arguments over the Second Amendment to include consideration of public health and safety, a growing number of the Republican governors have found solutions closer to the political center -- even as Congress has been unable to agree on any new federal gun measures.
Responding to constituents, the governors have vetoed legislation that would allow people to carry concealed weapons and have won or pushed for laws that would require trigger locks, make parents and other adults responsible for minors' use of their guns and toughen sentences for crimes committed with guns.
"Columbine opened a new era in the gun debate," said Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt, a second-term Republican who has fought with his state's Republican-controlled Legislature for tighter gun control, including a measure to prohibit concealed weapons in schools.
"We're starting to get a sense of proportion," Leavitt added. "There is a capacity to protect Second Amendment rights, but that does not mean we can't limit the way guns are used. That dialogue is starting to go on."
It is evident across the nation:
In Illinois, a package of public safety initiatives signed into law this year by Gov. George Ryan, a first-term Republican, included mandatory trigger locks on guns, a gun storage law that holds parents accountable for acts of violence by their children, and new penalties for using guns in crimes.
Ryan also said he would veto any bill that would allow Illinois residents to carry a concealed weapon.
In Kansas, Gov. Bill Graves, a second-term Republican, vetoed a bill in 1997 that would have allowed state residents to carry concealed weapons. Republican lawmakers, who are a strong majority in both the Kansas House and Senate, have not passed a similar measure since.
In Ohio, where Republicans also control both houses, Taft, a Republican who is a first-term governor, has refused to endorse any concealed-handgun bill that does not have the support of the state's law-enforcement agencies. So far, no bill has reached his desk.
In Massachusetts, where both houses of the Legislature are overwhelmingly Democratic, Gov. Paul Cellucci, a Republican, signed into law last year a sweeping package of initiatives that included a ban on assault weapons, increases in fines and prison terms for gun-related crimes and a prohibition against gun dealers selling weapons from their residences.
Marc Racicot of Montana vetoed a measure this year that would have allowed anyone carrying a concealed gun to enter a bar or a restaurant that sells alcoholic beverages.
Wisconsin Gov. Tommy G. Thompson has vowed to veto any concealed-weapon bill.
New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman says she supports mandatory child-proof gun locks.
And Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland signed into law this year a measure that allows the authorities to remove guns from the homes of people believed to be a threat to the community.
Pub Date: 9/04/99