The horrific streak of highly publicized shootings this summer has left many reeling, including us. With each passing day, the death toll from gun violence climbs, and the urgent need to adopt smart gun laws becomes clearer and clearer. At the Law Center, we’re mourning these horrific tragedies, but we’re also taking action: our legal experts have redoubled their efforts to find common-sense solutions to the epidemic of gun violence playing out in America.
There are a few key policy areas that must be strengthened in order to prevent tragedies of the magnitude we’ve seen over the last few months, beginning with the racially motivated massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, right up to this week’s on-camera execution of two Virginia journalists. We lose 80 Americans a day to gun violence, and, in 2015, for the first time, more young people will die from guns than from cars. If we want that madness to end, we must push for smarter gun laws:
Universal background checks provide the first line of defense—they help keep guns from falling into the wrong hands. Federal law still has a dangerous loophole that allows prohibited people—the dangerously mentally ill, drug abusers, convicted domestic abusers and felons—to easily purchase guns through private or online sales. With the rise of the internet and social media since the Brady Bill was first passed in 1993, the need to close this loophole has become exponentially more urgent.
State reporting improvements also must be made in order for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to issue accurate reports on potential gun buyers. Many states fail to comprehensively report essential information like criminal history, mental health status, domestic violence records, and illicit drug abuse records to the agencies that perform background checks. Increasing NICS funding and stronger incentives and penalties on states to report relevant records to NICS will close this dangerous gap in the background checks system.
Gun Violence Restraining Orders (GVRO) empower families and law enforcement to petition a judge to remove guns from relatives who pose a risk to themselves or others. Shooters often exhibit dangerous warning signs, and GVRO laws help keep guns away from people with the intent to harm. California passed a landmark GVRO last year, in response to the shooting at the University of California, Santa Barbara. How many other mass shootings could have been prevented had the shooters’ families had legal recourse to keep them away from deadly weapons?
In statehouses across the country, the fight for smart gun laws continues—the good news is, we’re winning. Since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, lawmakers have passed more than 99 lifesaving smart gun laws in 37 states. In states with smart gun laws, like the ones mentioned above, their gun death rates have plummeted, as you can see on our annual Gun Law State Scorecard. And we continue to defeat the gun lobby in court—93 percent of Second Amendment challenges to existing gun laws have failed since the landmark Heller decision in 2008. Americans overwhelmingly support smart gun laws, and we owe it to the 30,000 victims of gun violence to fight for these lifesaving policies.