Gun violence is a national public health and public safety crisis. More than 36,000 Americans die from gun violence every year. 60% of annual gun deaths are from suicide, while just under 40% are firearm homicides. The U.S. has a firearm homicide rate more than four times its rich peer nations, despite having similar rates of overall crime. Higher rates of gun homicides in the U.S. are linked to escalations in arguments and social encounters, not to higher lethality in violent crimes like robbery and assault. The evidence all points to the same conclusion: lethal violence in the U.S. is primarily a gun problem, not a crime problem.
Gun safety is a national public health issue, but it is also a police violence issue and a question of equity. Officers and police departments must be held accountable for violence against civilians. There is also strong evidence, however, that stricter gun laws are associated with fewer fatal shootings by police. Widespread gun possession increases the risk to our communities of gun deaths by civilians and by police. And our Black communities are most at risk from both civilian and police gun violence.
In Congress, passing common-sense reforms that are proven to reduce gun violence will be one of my top priorities. Our lack of action on gun safety in the face of endemic mass shootings, suicide, homicide is one of the great failures in governance we have seen over the past several decades. We can and we must find the courage and political will to make changes. We cannot keep losing so many precious lives to preventable gun violence.
We must begin by passing universal background checks and closing legal loopholes that allow dangerous individuals to obtain firearms. Under current federal law, only federally-licensed gun dealers are required to perform background checks. In contrast, sales and transfers by private individuals or online retailers are generally exempt from performing background checks. As a result, more than 40% of gun owners have not been subjected to a background check. Only a small minority of those incarcerated for offenses involving firearms obtained them from a licensed dealer required to perform a background check. Even for those purchasing weapons from a licensed dealer, too often customers obtain weapons without having their background check completed. This is known as the “default proceed” rule or the “Charleston loophole”: under current federal law, dealers are authorized to proceed with a sale if the background check is not completed within 3 business days. These loopholes make it way too easy for those prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms to obtain one. I support requiring background checks for all firearms sales and extending the waiting period to complete a background check before a dealer may proceed with a sale to 30 days.
We must also close the “boyfriend” loophole in the original Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that prohibits those convicted of abuse or stalking of their spouses or former spouses from purchasing firearms, but says nothing about those convicted of dating abuse or stalking. I also support the VAWA reauthorization proposal to prohibit subjects of a temporary restraining order for stalking from possessing a firearm. Advocates have long noted the dangerous gap between the initial court order—where subjects are often still allowed to possess a firearm—and the final order. Access to a gun significantly increases the risk of homicide in domestic incidents, and we cannot allow the gun lobby to continue to put women and children at undue risk due to a meaningless legal distinction. I will fight to pass the VAWA reauthorization to close the boyfriend loophole and protect stalking victims from gun violence.
One of the great tragedies of our gun violence epidemic is how much of this violence is foreseeable but, because of our lax laws, not preventable. In 33 states, there are little to no means available to disarm individuals that families or law enforcement officers deem to be at risk of committing violence against themselves or others, including when credible threats of violence have been made. And yet, from mass shootings to suicide, there are almost always significant warning signs of impending violence or harm. I support the bipartisan Federal Emergency Risk Protection Act Order Act to allow families, household members, or law enforcement officers to petition U.S. District Courts for protection orders to disarm an individual whom they believe is at risk of harming themselves or others. States that have adopted these “red flag” laws have seen significant decreases in suicides, and other states have effectively disarmed individuals that have made threats against schools. We must make it possible to intervene in high-risk situations and ultimately help prevent more deaths by gun violence.
I also support reinstating the assault weapons ban and the ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines. Research suggests that semiautomatic weapons and those with large-capacity magazines are more dangerous and more likely to produce shooting incidents with multiple victims. A study of Minneapolis gun violence in 2014 found that incidents involving more than 10 gunshots accounted for a quarter of all gun violence victims, despite accounting for only about 5-7% of all gun violence incidents. Too many people are dying because it is too easy for anyone to pick up an assault weapon and fire tens of rounds per minute. It is unconscionable that students around the country live in fear of mass shootings at their schools. We must make it harder for people to commit mass gun violence, and banning the sale of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are necessary reforms.
In addition to expanding background checks and closing loopholes, stricter gun licensing laws are associated with significantly fewer gun deaths. I support the Handgun Purchaser Licensing Act, which would establish a federal grant program to incentivize and support the implementation of permit-to-purchase laws in states nationwide. Just like we all have to apply for a license to operate a motor vehicle, we should be required to obtain a license before purchasing a weapon capable of killing someone. Permit-to-purchase laws help reduce gun deaths by keeping guns out of the hands of prohibited users and dampening rash gun purchases used to escalate disagreements. Permit-to-purchase laws also help limit gun trafficking by making it easier to track weapons and their purchasers.
Finally, I support raising the national minimum age for possession or purchase of a firearm to 21 for both purchase and possession of a firearm, including long guns. Young people are far more likely to commit homicide than older people, and they also face higher risk of suicide. Yet current federal law allows unlicensed persons to transfer or sell long guns to individuals of any age, and to transfer or sell handguns to anyone 18 and older. We must expand the law to cover all transfers and sales of firearms and include both handguns and long guns, with exceptions for temporary possession supervised by a parent or legal guardian for the purposes of hunting or target practice. The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, which conditions funding for state highways on the prohibition of the sale and possession of alcohol to minors under the age of 21, has proven effective at decreasing alcohol-related traffic incidents, as well as reducing the risk of homicide and suicide. A national minimum age for possession and purchase of a firearm will reduce young adults’ harm to themselves and to others.
None of these policies infringe upon anyone’s constitutional rights, and all of them taken together would significantly reduce deaths from gun violence. We have to make our cities and our towns safer by taking these common-sense steps to limit gun violence.