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Despite cracks in Republican gun-rights wall, differences between states widen

There have been a few cracks in the predictable pattern of Republican-controlled states loosening gun laws while Democratic states tighten them. But it's far too soon to say the GOP is changing direction even amid a record-setting pace for mass killings in the United States.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, is sticking by his plan to call a special legislative session on gun control. Lee had asked lawmakers to pass a bill allowing judges to take away guns from people who the judge thinks pose an imminent threat to themselves or others. Lee shies away from calling his plan a red flag law, which he calls a “toxic political label.”

And two Republicans in a Texas legislative committee broke ranks to advance a bill that would raise the purchase age for semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21.

“We cannot assume that gun safety is not possible in states led by Republicans,” said Allison Anderman, who tracks state legislation for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which favors more restrictions.

Still, a quick Republican turnaround is unlikely after decades of making gun rights a party cornerstone. Top GOP lawmakers and Gov. Greg Abbott oppose the Texas bill, while Lee has faced resistance from Tennessee Republicans. Nearly half the states have passed legislation this year related to gun policies or school safety, an Associated Press survey found. The bills are split roughly equally between Democratic-led states tightening gun restrictions and Republican-led states expanding gun rights.

Here’s what’s happening:

A FLURRY IN MICHIGAN

A Democratic takeover of both houses of the Michigan Legislature, combined with Gretchen Whitmer winning a second term as governor, has led to seven gun-related laws getting passed. Those include expanding background checks to all sales and requiring secure storage of guns. Whitmer is expected to sign legislation later this month so that people who are an imminent danger to themselves or others could have their guns confiscated, based on a judge's decision.

She told supporters last month when signing some bills to “buckle up, we’re going to continue this work.”

Democrats in Minnesota are also trying to push through a red flag law and expanded background checks, attaching them to a budget bill on Wednesday.

GUN CONTROL FRUSTRATION

Unlike in Michigan and Minnesota, supporters of stricter gun laws in many Republican-controlled states are voicing frustration. Georgia Democrats, for example, filed 16 bills to tighten gun laws this year. The only bill that got a committee hearing was received with hostility by Republicans and gun-rights supporters.

Democrats renewed their push following a shooting this month at an Atlanta doctor's office that killed one and wounded four others, with 71 Democratic House members signing a letter asking Republican Gov. Brian Kemp to call a special session. But Kemp and other Republicans are laying low. If anything, gun rights supporters expect a further loosening of laws in Georgia.

PERMITLESS CARRY

Among the states staying pro-gun are Florida and Nebraska, which have become the latest Republican-controlled states to let people carry a concealed handgun without a permit. Permits and usually a background had once been required to carry a concealed handgun in public in every state but Vermont. With the votes in Nebraska and Florida, 26 states have now repealed such requirements since 2011. Florida's law takes effect July 1. Nebraska’s law takes effect Sept. 10.

Of the remaining 23 states without broad permitless carry laws, only Louisiana, South Carolina and North Carolina seem ripe for expansion. While Republican lawmakers in North Carolina earlier overrode a veto by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to allow people to but a handgun without getting a permit from a local sheriff, a top Republican has effectively quashed legislative efforts to let people carry a concealed handgun without another type of permit.

The permitless carry effort also appears stalled in South Carolina, while outgoing Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has opposed a broad expansion in his state.

REACTING TO THE SUPREME COURT

Some states have passed new limits on where residents can carry guns, reacting to last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision saying Americans have a right to carry firearms in public for self-defense and that officials can’t broadly deny gun permits. In Hawaii, where it had been virtually impossible for a civilian to legally carry a loaded gun in public, lawmakers are seeking to prohibit people from carrying guns in places including hospitals, stadiums, movie theaters, bars or restaurants serving alcohol, public libraries, schools and beaches.

SEMI-AUTOMATIC RIFLES

Demands to ban semi-automatic rifles have been bubbling up among gun control advocates. Washington became the 10th state to ban sales of semi-automatic rifles including AR-15s and AK-47s. The measure, sought by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, passed after multiple failed attempts. Anyone who already has such a rifle can keep it. Opponents have already sued to strike it down. A similar proposal failed in Colorado after lawmakers passed a series of narrower gun control measures, showing that the measure doesn't have universal support among Democrats.

BLOCKING ENFORCEMENT

Kentucky in April became the latest state to declare itself a “Second Amendment Sanctuary." The bill, which became law without Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear's signature, seeks to ban state and local law enforcement from helping enforce any federal laws or regulations enacted on guns, ammunition and accessories since Democratic President Joe Biden took office. Any officer who did so would be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to being fired.

A federal judge in March struck down a similar law in Missouri as unconstitutional, ruling state and local police can help investigate federal firearms crimes and enforce such laws.

SUING GUN MAKERS

Colorado, Washington and Hawaii have passed laws making it easier to sue gun manufacturers and sellers. The Washington law, for example, requires reasonable controls in making, selling and marketing weapons. That includes not selling guns to people known to be dangerous or to straw buyers who might buy weapons on someone else’s behalf. It allows the state or private parties, such as relatives of victims, to sue over violations and win damages.

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Associated Press reporters David Lieb in Jefferson City, Missouri, and Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu contributed to this report.