Although the debate over stemming gun violence after the massacre in Newtown, Conn., is breaking down mostly along partisan lines in the nation's statehouses -- with several Democratic governors calling for stricter gun laws as most Republicans urge tighter security or revamped mental health policies -- the handful of exceptions show the political and geographical complexities of the issue.
More than a dozen governors invoked the Newtown school shooting as they opened their legislative sessions in recent weeks with State of the State addresses, and most have weighed in on the shooting in other forums. Several Democratic governors, mainly along the East Coast, are calling for banning some semiautomatic weapons or large capacity magazines, while several Republican governors have urged other measures, noting their opposition to more restrictive gun laws. But the state-level debate has not always followed party lines.
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Republican who is mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, recently noted that he had long supported his state's existing laws, which he described as "some of the toughest gun control measures in place in the country."
Gov. Mark Dayton of Minnesota, a Democrat, was quoted after the shooting as saying that his "reading of the Constitution is that it provides a complete permission for any law-abiding citizen to possess firearms, whichever ones he or she chooses, and the ammunition to go with that." And another Democrat, Gov. Mike Beebe of Arkansas, is likely to sign a bill working its way through the state's Republican legislature, which he was neutral on, that would allow people to bring concealed handguns to churches that choose to allow them.
But in many states, the contours of the debate are following familiar party lines. Democratic governors in Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland and Massachusetts are among those calling for stricter gun laws, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York has already won the passage of the sweeping gun measures he sought after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Many Republican governors, meanwhile, are making it clear that they oppose new restrictions on guns.
In many states, governors are raising the issue in their addresses to lawmakers.
"Who can watch the sad images of the last several weeks, who can see the pictures of those young faces, and honestly say that we are doing enough?" Gov. Martin O'Malley of Marylan, a Democrat, asked in his State of the State address last week. Mr. O'Malley urged state lawmakers to ban the sale of "military-style assault weapons," require licenses for buying handguns, bolster mental health treatment and information sharing and spend more on school security.
Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, a Republican who took office this year, said in his speech that he would seek additional money in the state budget for "a comprehensive school safety review," but made it clear that he would oppose limiting access to guns.
"All of us were heartbroken after every parent's worst nightmare unfolded in Newtown, Conn.," said Mr. Pence, a former member of Congress. "While others have rushed to the well-worn arguments over gun control, Hoosiers know this is not about access to firearms. It is about access to schools. Hoosiers have responsibilities to protect our kids and Hoosiers have rights. We will protect our kids, and we will protect our rights."
As Washington debates President Obama's call for stricter federal gun laws, the state-level debate is unfolding at an unusually partisan moment in statehouses, with more states controlled by just one party than at any time in the past six decades. Republicans have the upper hand, holding the governor's office and legislative majorities in 24 states, while the Democrats control both the executive and legislative branches in just 13 states. The stark divide can be seen in many of the bills being weighed in states this year.
In Tennessee, which is controlled by Republicans, lawmakers have introduced bills this year that would allow school employees to carry guns, let people keep guns and ammunition locked in their cars at public and private parking lots, and withhold state funds from being used to enforce any new federal law or executive order that "imposes restrictions on citizens who lawfully possess or carry firearms in this state."
In heavily Democratic Massachusetts, meanwhile, Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, is calling for legislation to ban magazines containing more than seven rounds of ammunition, require background checks for private gun sales, and limit people to buying one gun a month. In his address to lawmakers, he said that the proposals would "help stop tragedies like Newtown or the recent shooting of a 13-year-old boy in Roxbury on his way to choir practice."
Most Republicans said that they had drawn other lessons from the Newtown shooting. Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona, a Republican who said in her speech that "the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary was unimaginable," rejected calls for stricter gun laws in her address to the Legislature.
"Arizonans have reduced crime by punishing criminals, and not by infringing on the rights of law-abiding gun owners," she said.
Ms. Brewer focused instead on school safety, saying that her budget would call for more money for school resource officers to provide security. "Our job now is to take common-sense steps that lessen the likelihood of a similar tragedy striking Arizona -- while resisting the urge to turn a school into a fortress," she said.
Gov. C. L. Otter of Idaho (known as Butch) alluded to the Newtown shooting in his address to lawmakers as he called for spending money to build a new 579-bed secure mental health facility at a prison complex south of Boise.
"We all saw just a few weeks ago the terrible impact on a community and a nation when mental illness leads to tragedy," Mr. Otter said, echoing a commonly held belief, although the authorities have not described the mental state of Adam Lanza, the killer in Newtown, or said if he suffered from mental illness. Mr. Otter also ordered a review of school safety.
Some Democratic governors have said that they are holding out hope for a federal law that would apply to the whole nation. Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont, the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, who was endorsed last year by the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund, has opposed taking action on gun laws at the state level but has said that he supports Mr. Obama's recommendations.
And Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut, a Democrat who has said he would pursue gun control, school safety and mental health measures in response to the shooting that killed 20 first graders and six educators in his state, said that those issues must be addressed at the national level as well. "As long as weapons continue to travel up and down I-95," he said in his speech to lawmakers, "what is available for sale in Florida or Virginia can have devastating consequences here in Connecticut."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.