Five Figures to Consider
Weary of thoughts and prayers, citizen and corporate activists across the country made 2018 the year it became okay for even Republican governors to pass legislation restricting gun access. Since the February Parkland, Florida, high school shooting, 67 bills designed to keep guns out of dangerous hands have been signed into law in 27 states, including in 15 states with Republican governors. Meanwhile nine new laws in seven states have expanded gun access. That’s a reversal of the trend of previous years. (Since 2013, governors have enacted 382 “pro-gun” laws compared to 210 “gun safety laws”.) In fact, more than half of U.S. states passed at least one gun control measure in 2018, and voters in Washington State resoundingly approved the year’s only gun safety ballot measure, enacting new restrictions on semiautomatic rifles and encouraging safe firearm storage. (For more on the public safety impact of secure firearms storage, see 5F’s Lock Them Up.)
There has even been progress toward gun safety in Washington, D.C.; this week the Justice Department issued a rule that will ban the sale or possession of bump stocks while requiring owners of such devices to destroy or surrender them to authorities within 90 days. Additionally, the Trump Administration clarified that the Dickey Amendment, which bars the use of federal funds to promote gun control (see Unmuzzle Gun Safety Research,) does not prohibit the Centers for Disease Control from using federal funds to conduct research on the causes of gun violence. (It just doesn’t provide the funds.) Watch the progress of the 2019 omnibus spending bill for details on that. With legislators tagged with F grades from the National Rifle Association heading to Congress, we can hope for smarter gun laws. In the meantime, here is a rundown of the types of laws that have been effective and are spreading in states across the country.
Domestic Violence Restrictions
Federal law under the Lautenberg Amendment disqualifies people with a misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence from buying or owning weapons (see Domestic Violence Victims Outgunned). But, the law has giant loopholes. For one, it does not pertain to boyfriends, stalkers or family members who are not a parent or a child of the person being abused. For another it doesn’t require abusers to turn over the weapons they already have. States that adopt broader domestic abuser laws — from expanding the definition of intimate partner to requiring the removal of firearms when a protective order is issued — have seen a 19% reduction in the risk of intimate partner homicides. In 2018 eleven states strengthened or enacted domestic violence laws.
Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO) — also known as Red Flag Laws
An ERPO allows law enforcement, family members and/or other designated members of the community to temporarily disarm a person if they demonstrate they are an imminent danger to themselves or others. Without this law, Nicholas Cruz, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooter, whose guardian called him a “ticking time bomb” and who was known to the FBI, had a legal right to his AR-15. As did Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ shooter whose parents had become so concerned about his behavior that they took away his shotgun. But, without an ERPO law in their state they could take no further action to restrict his access to guns. The laws have helped prevent mass shootings, suicides and domestic abuse. A day after Vermont’s governor signed the state’s ERPO into law, it was used to disarm an 18-year-old who kept a diary called “Journal of an Active Shooter” in which he detailed his plans to cause more casualties than any previous school shooting. Additionally, a 2016 study found that for every 10 to 20 guns seized under an ERPO law, one suicide was prevented. As of December 21, 2018, 13 states — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington — have enacted laws authorizing courts to issue extreme risk protection orders.
Urban Gun Violence Reduction Programs
Often lost in the gun conversation is the effect gun violence has on urban neighborhoods where the homicide rate is 10 times the national average. Consider that in 2012, a total of 90 people were killed in mass shootings while nearly 6,000 black men were murdered in shootings that rarely made the news. When states pass laws — as nine did in 2018 — to fund urban gun violence reduction programs, the firearm homicide rate plummets. When Richmond, CA, implemented comprehensive community-based intervention strategies targeted towards the most-at-risk individuals, the city’s gun homicide rate dropped 72%. The idea behind the programs is that a very small and readily identifiable segment of a city’s population is responsible for the vast majority of that city’s gun violence. By focusing intervention efforts specifically toward this population, these programs dramatically and quickly reduce gun homicide rates.
Background checks keep guns out of the hands of people with dangerous histories. And, they are popular — 97% of Americans support background checks for all handgun sales. However, under federal law background checks are only required on gun sales at licensed dealers. So anyone who is prohibited from buying a gun can jump on the internet and order one from Armslist.com in a jiffy. Or head to the nearest gun show where many unlicensed dealers conduct “private sales” in which no background check is needed. When Missouri eliminated mandatory background checks for handguns sold by private sellers, its firearm homicide rate increased 25%. Compare that to Connecticut. When a 1995 state licensing law required applicants to pass a background check in order to purchase a handgun from any seller, the state’s firearm-related homicide rate fell 40%. Furthermore, mass shootings are 52% less likely to occur in states that require background checks on all handgun sales. This past year seven states enacted laws that add a background check requirement or improve existing background check laws. (eleven states and the District of Columbia require background checks at the point-of-sale for all sales — including at gun shows and online — and all types of firearms.)
These laws, along with bump stock bans, were among the most commonly enacted gun laws of 2018. Could it be a sign that state legislators are backing away from being rubber stamps for the NRA? According to a report in the New York Times, 90% of the bills backed by the NRA in 2018 were rejected by lawmakers who are showing renewed determination to pass bipartisan evidence-based gun laws that actually reduce gun violence.
Ballotpedia, Center for Homeland Defense and Security, Duke University, federalregister.gov, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Gun Violence Archive, National Institutes of Health, Pew Trusts, The American Medical Association, washington.gov