(Note: This article is a sidebar to the feature Guns R Us)
Generally, by state law, you're not allowed to carry a gun into a nuclear plant or hydroelectric dam area, or into a polling place on Election Day, or into any other "public establishment" where the host specifically bans guns, or into any establishment that serves booze. That last prohibition drew the ire of the 2005 Legislature, which passed a bill to allow people to "carry" in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, but Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano vetoed it, with the support of the tavern owners. Other than that, Arizona is pretty loose with its gun regulations. If your town wants to pass tougher regs than the state has adopted, generally the state won't allow it. More than 89,000 Arizonans have permits to carry concealed guns (one in every 45 people age 21 or older). The Pink Pistols, a national group with the slogan "Armed Gays Don't Get Bashed," has a Phoenix chapter whose members include a lesbian gunsmith and a gay retired cop. "We're not here to get into gun battles with straight people," says the chapter's founder, Mike Shipley, who was attacked by two guys with baseball bats while walking at night a few years ago. Besides, he says, self-defense is only part of the appeal of guns. "It's a sport," says Shipley, who designs Web sites for a living, "and there's a political angle. Gay people are traditionally on the left, the gun-control side. I'm active in liberal causes, and (many gays and liberals) look at me like I'm crazy when I mention I'm doing this. But I want to get people on the left and on the right to think. We actually get a friendlier reaction from gun people. If you have a gun and you know how to use it, they're cool with you."
In 1993, an angry client carried two rapid-fire Tec-DC9 assault pistols into a San Francisco law firm and opened fire, killing nine people and himself. That massacre inspired local lawyers to form a national gun-control group, Legal Community Against Violence. The LCAV helped push Congress to ban assault weapons in 1994 (but Congress let the ban expire in 2004). The group also favors suing gun-makers as liable for shootings (although Congress squashed that with an immunity law in 2005), and it has pushed California to be among the toughest gun-regulators in all 50 states. The state has closed the unlicensed-seller loophole almost completely, requiring that most guns sales be done through licensed dealers who do background checks. Assault weapons are banned, you can't openly carry any kind of gun, and you have to go through a 10-day waiting period to buy a gun. All the regulations slow sales. "It takes 20 or 30 minutes just to do the paperwork," says Chuck Michel, the state's leading gun-rights lawyer. It's more difficult to get a concealed-weapons permit in California than in most other states, but even so, amid terrorist anxiety, there's been a surge in applications; today, more than 40,000 Californians have permits. County sheriffs decide who can get the permits, and rural sheriffs tend to be particularly pro-gun. In Modoc County, in the state's far northeast corner, one in 29 residents had a concealed-gun permit in 2004, according to the Los Angeles Times.
That was tops in the state for per capita concealed guns, and possibly tops nationwide. In the gun-control bastion of San Francisco, 58 percent of the voters approved a 2005 ballot measure banning all gun sales and requiring people to surrender handguns. Gun-rights advocates subsequently persuaded the state Supreme Court that the law violated the state Constitution.
After the 15 deaths in the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, voters approved a 2000 ballot measure requiring background checks on customers at gun shows. (One of the killers had bought a gun at such a show.) But unlicensed sellers who work through classified ads and other methods still don't have to do background checks. Beginning in 2003, the Legislature passed laws strengthening gun rights, making it easier to carry guns into many public buildings and get permits for concealed weapons, and harder for lawmen to get the records of gun purchases. The Lege has also limited the power of local governments. The city of Denver wanted to be tougher on guns in some ways than the state, so it sued; the state Supreme Court deadlocked in 2006, allowing some of Denver's stricter regs to stand. About 33,000 Coloradans have permits to carry concealed guns (about one of every 100 people age 21 or older). Most Colorado universities ban guns, but Colorado State University in Fort Collins allows people with permits to carry concealed guns in classrooms and on much of the rest of the campus. Mostly the state is pro-gun, says Dave Kopel, a lawyer at a prominent gun-rights libertarian think tank, the Independence Institute, which is based in a Denver suburb. For instance, Kopel points out, "In Colorado, you can carry a loaded handgun in your car, say, in your glove compartment, for lawful protection, without having to get a permit. In Utah, you would need a permit."
State law specifically warns that if you're out hunting, and you accidentally shoot someone, and then you flee, you can lose your hunting license. Other than that, Idaho is about as loose as it gets, guns-wise. Not only are local governments prevented from having tougher regs than the state has, one tiny town west of Boise, Greenleaf, passed a 2006 ordinance recommending that every household in town have a gun and ammo — unless the household has religious objections. About 12,800 people have permits to carry concealed guns in Idaho, and they can be as young as 18. This spring, the federal Bureau of Land Management tried to declare additional turf in the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area off-limits to public shooters, because some are not only endangering the birds, they're also hitting cattle and the Idaho National Guard tanks that use the area for practice maneuvers. But Idaho's new congressman, Bill Sali, and Gov. Butch Otter weighed in for gun rights, and the BLM backed off, leaving the status quo. (That is: You can still shoot on 86 percent of the conservation area's 490,000 acres.)
Generally, guns are banned in government buildings, banks and railroad trains. Other than that, Montana is among the gun-friendliest of all 50 states. You can get a permit to carry a concealed gun at age 18, and more than 14,600 Montanans have done so (one of every 50 people above age 18). In fact, you don't even need a permit to have a hidden weapon if you're outside town limits or at your place of business. State law generally prevents local governments from having tougher regs, and state law is anything but tough. (For instance, "lead, copper, or brass deposits directly resulting from shooting activities at a shooting range" are not subject to local anti-littering ordinances.) Montana State University is a gun-control gray area: It bans handguns, while allowing hunting rifles to be (1) kept in locked storage rooms in some dorms and (2) kept anywhere in on-campus family and graduate-student housing. In this year's Legislature, the House passed a bill allowing anyone in Montana to manufacture guns without a federal gun-manufacturing license, seeking to test federal authority. (The Senate declined to follow suit.) Gary Marbut, head of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, estimates that at least 90 percent of Montana homes have guns and the average gun household has 27. "We tend to accumulate guns in families in Montana" over generations, Marbut says. (Liberal gun owners sampled for comment think Marbut exaggerates the per-household average but is probably accurate on the percentage of households that own a gun.)