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Tucson shooting spotlights US shift on gun control

Since the Tucson shooting on Jan. 8, federal gun control advocates have made little headway and many states are considering expanding gun rights. Why?

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Gun enthusiast D.J. Dorer (back to camera), of Yorktown, Va., carried his AR 15 pistol outside the Richmond, Va., capitol during a Jan. 17 rally urging state lawmakers to relax Virginia’s gun laws.

Steve Helber/AP

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Far from launching a flurry of comprehensive gun-control bills in Congress and statehouses, the Jan. 8 mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., has instead only emphasized how entrenched gun rights have become in America during the past 20 years.

The 1994 ban on assault weapons – which has since lapsed – remains the last major piece of gun-control legislation passed by Congress. While a number of gun-control measures are now being proposed on Capitol Hill in the aftermath of the attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) of Arizona, none is sweeping and each could well fail.

Meanwhile, states are actively expanding gun rights. Even in the days after the Tucson attack, Arizona legislators moved forward with a plan to allow guns on college campuses.

IN PICTURES: States with the strictest gun laws

The national recalibration on gun control comes as Americans' interpretation of the Second Amendment has shifted – embracing the right to "keep and bear arms" as a fundamental expression of individual rights. Within conservative groups like the tea party, gun rights has become a primary symbol of the pushback against the steady expansion of the federal government's purview.

This has helped gun-rights advocates maintain their momentum despite other mass shootings, such as the ones at Virginia Tech in 2007 and at Columbine High School in 1999.

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