End the gun violence epidemic

Photo by annie bolin on Unsplash

On average, 96 Americans per day are killed with guns, and 7 of those are children or teens. For every one person killed with guns, two more are injured. In an average month, 50 women are shot to death by their partner.

Mass shootings — where four or more victims are involved — occur 9 out of every 10 days. Over half the guns used in these mass shootings were obtained legally — not by criminals working outside the law. It’s clear that our gun laws that are broken.

As former Chief Justice Warren Burger said, the myth that the Second Amendment prevents Congress from regulating guns is “one of the greatest pieces of fraud — I repeat the word fraud — on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

The Second Amendment explicitly calls for the regulation of those in possession of firearms, while the preamble speaks of the responsibility of the government to “insure domestic tranquility.” Taken together, it is clear that Congress is not merely allowed to regulate guns, it is compelled to do so. The safety of Americans is constantly compromised by perversion of the Second Amendment, perpetuated by organizations like the NRA that buy off politicians using dark money and SuperPACs.

Leaders in Congress need to take a stand against special interests that make our nation less safe. We need to stand up for all Americans and pass comprehensive gun violence prevention legislation, and put an end to this national epidemic of gun deaths.

Background checks

An overwhelming 97% of Americans support universal background checks for all gun sales. That includes 97% of Republicans and 97% of gun owners.

Since the background check system was established in 1998, background checks have succeeded in blocking over 3 million gun sales to people with felonies, domestic abusers, and others who are legally prohibited from having guns. However, current law only requires background checks for sales from licensed dealers, leaving a large loophole that allows millions of guns to circulate with no background checks through gun shows and online purchases.

Congress must legislate national universal background checks that would close these loopholes and require all gun purchasers in all states to undergo a background check. Nineteen states and have already taken it upon themselves to protect their citizens and require background checks for all handgun sales. In states with these laws, 47% fewer women are shot to death by domestic partners, 53% fewer law enforcement officers are shot and killed in the line of duty, and intrastate gun trafficking in cities is 48% lower.

Additionally, we need a federally mandated waiting period between when a gun is purchased and when the buyer takes possession of it. Waiting periods preempt impulsive acts of violence and suicide, and allow time for slower background checks to be processed. Only nine states have laws that establish waiting periods. Under current federal law, dealers can hand over the gun to the purchaser as soon as the background check passes or after three business days, even if the background check isn’t completed. This is unacceptable and must end.

Handguns

Handguns are disproportionately dangerous weapons that deserve special attention from lawmakers. They only account for 34% of firearms in the United States, but cause approximately 80% of firearm homicides. Women are disproportionately victimized using handguns, which were used to kill 71% of all female homicide victims nationally in 2008.

Handguns are also closely linked to suicide risk, with one study of handgun purchasers in California finding that suicide was the leading cause of death in the first year following the purchase of a handgun. Even one week after buying a handgun, the firearm suicide rate among handgun purchasers was 57 times higher than the general population.

It’s clear that we need severe restrictions on handgun ownership, as well as a more robust national effort to keep handguns out of public places. Lengthier waiting periods for handgun purchases, also called “cooling-off periods,” have been linked to a 17% drop in gun homicides and up to an 11% drop in gun suicides.

Concealed handguns are especially pernicious, with concealed carry handgun permit holders responsible for the deaths of 1,129 people since 2007, including 31 mass shootings. Heavily restricting concealed carry of handguns at the federal level, and preempting the patchwork of lax state-level concealed carry laws (some of which allow concealed weapons in places like public schools and courthouses) will make every American safer, and save lives.

Banning accessories and assault weapons

By allowing assault weapons and accessories that turn regular rifles into assault weapons, we enable mass shooters and needlessly endanger our citizens. Assault weapons, designed to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible, are too often the weapon of choice in mass shootings, and have no place in our society — and 68% of American adults agree.

When the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was enacted in 1994, the number of mass shootings fell by 37%, and the number of fatalities in these shootings fell by 43%. When the ban expired in 2004, mass shooting increased 183% and fatalities in shootings increased 239%. Banning assault weapons has been shown to decrease the number of school shooting victims by 54%.

In October of 2017, 58 people were killed in a matter of minutes in Las Vegas because the shooter used bump-stocks. More than eight in 10 Americans favor a ban on devices that allow gun owners to modify semi-automatic rifles to mimic the fire of automatic weapons.

Silencers, or sound suppressors, pose a different kind of danger. Though the NRA insists that these accessories protect the hearing of firearm users, the reality is that they endanger Americans by making it difficult to locate active shooters, or to even know that gunshots have been fired. Silencers also decrease the effectiveness of gunshot detection systems, which help police respond to and investigate gunfire. A ban on civilian ownership of silencers would limit criminal access to these accessories and lessen the danger to citizens and law enforcement officers.

Red Flag Laws

42% of mass shooters were reported to have exhibited warning signs prior to committing their crimes. However, families and law enforcement officers who noted these signs had no legal course of action to prevent these crimes, with the Parkland shooting being the most egregious example of multiple unheeded warnings leading to deadly tragedy.

Red flag laws allow family members or law enforcement officers to seek a court order to confiscate guns from individuals deemed a risk to themselves or others. This temporary removal of firearms can last anywhere from a few weeks to a year.

These laws put power in the hands of concerned family members, and law enforcement officers who otherwise are powerless to act. Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Rhode Island and Vermont enacted red flag laws after the Parkland shooting, determined not to repeat the tragedy that struck Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School despite early warnings fromfamily and law enforcement.

State of Origin

According to data collected by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as many as 90 percent of illegal guns used in New York City’s gun crimes originally come from other states. The most common states of origin have been Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, where laws are weaker. Even when one state has strict gun laws to protect their people, citizens are still at risk from weak laws in other states.

Law enforcement and the ATF regularly trace the source of firearms used in crimes to find and prosecute criminals, but this valuable information is kept to themselves. If this information were made public — as it should be — legislators and citizens could make more informed decisions regarding gun laws and put pressure where it’s needed to keep citizens safe.

I propose passing a “state of origin” bill to create a public database showing where firearms linked to gun crimes originated. Private information will be redacted, and guns could be cross-referenced to the crimes they were used to commit. If we can all go online and see that the firearm used to victimize our neighbor was purchased in a state with exceedingly lenient laws, we’ll be able to address the problem from a different perspective. This proposal is cheap to implement, and can be readily implemented in cities and states that are already have strong gun laws.

Money & the NRA

In recent years, the National Rifle Association has veered away from advocating for hunters and sportsmen towards lobbying for extreme gun rights policies and opposing nearly all gun violence prevention measures. The NRA has stopped law enforcement from sharing gun trace data, fought to prevent Congress from funding research on gun violence, and attempted to pass laws prohibiting doctors and military leaders from talking to patients and service members about suicide prevention and responsible gun ownership.

After Trump’s election, he gave an effusive speech at the NRA’s annual convention where he pledged to “never, ever let you down.” This frightening level of fealty makes sense, considering that the NRA spent $30 million during the presidential campaign to get Trump elected, and spending an additional $21 million during the election cycle on other candidates.

Taking advantage of Trump’s friendly administration, the NRA spent more money lobbying in the first two quarters of 2017 than it did in all of 2016. Not only does the NRA outspend gun control groups, it spends more money to influence policy than nearly every nonprofit group in America. Despite public outcries against gun violence, they continue to lobby for expanding gun rights.

Due to the efforts of the NRA, the toy industry has greater liability in the civil justice system than the gun industry. The NRA has ensured that the gun industry does not have the same regulations, liabilities, ramifications, or oversight as nearly all other industries. This immunity allowed to the gun industry has prevented victims of gun violence from seeking restitution, and given manufacturers the ability to avoid responsibility for negligence.

America needs to end the epidemic of gun violence, and implement sweeping gun violence prevention laws that prevent the next Parkland, or Newtown, or Orlando, or Virginia Tech, or Las Vegas, or Columbine. The next national shooting tragedy is just around the corner, and dozens die every day from preventable gun violence. We must to better as a country, and we must demand real leadership from our government to keep Americans safe from the scourge of gun violence.