As we struggle to process the horrific mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, we are yet again reminded of the unacceptable toll gun violence has on our communities. More than 30,000 Americans die from gunfire each year. To put this in perspective, during the first seven years of the Iraq War, over 4,400 American soldiers were killed—almost as many civilians are killed with guns in the US every seven weeks.
This year, guns will kill more people under 25 than automobiles, and the gun homicide rate in the US is 20 times higher than in other developed nations. Communities of color are disproportionately impacted, with black men 10 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than white men.
While there may not be a single policy that would have prevented the Emanuel AME Church shooting, the research does show, categorically, that states with comprehensive gun regulation have significantly lower gun death rates, while states with weak gun laws have high gun death rates. South Carolina, which scored an F on our annual Gun Law State Scorecard, has abysmal gun laws and the fifth highest gun homicide rate in the country—41 percent higher than the national average.
South Carolina could make its citizens significantly safer by adopting the following policies:
- Universal Background Checks: Federal law leaves open a dangerous loophole that allows prohibited people (including criminals, the dangerously mentally ill, drug abusers, and those under indictment for felonies, as some reports indicate the Charleston shooter was) to easily purchase guns through unlicensed sales.
- Gun Violence Restraining Orders: Last year, California passed a landmark Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO) law that empowers families to petition a judge to remove guns from relatives who pose a risk to themselves or others. Mass shooters often exhibit dangerous warning signs and GVRO laws help keep guns out of dangerous hands.
- Permit to Purchase: Several states, including North Carolina, require all handgun buyers to obtain a “permit to purchase” from local law enforcement, even for unlicensed sales. If South Carolina adopted this law, it would add an additional layer of screening and make it harder for dangerous people to buy firearms.
- Hate Crime Laws: South Carolina is one of only five states without a hate crime law. By imposing stiffer penalties on crimes motivated by bias, these acts are more effectively discouraged.
The good news is that in the face of tragedies like the one in Charleston, smart gun laws are winning in statehouses across the country. Since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, an unprecedented 99 new smart gun laws have passed in 37 states, including a historic universal background checks ballot initiative in Washington State. And the gun lobby continues to lose in the courts—93% of Second Amendment challenges to existing gun regulations have failed since the landmark Heller decision in 2008. The American people overwhelmingly support smart gun laws, and we owe it to the victims of the shooting at Emanuel AME Church—as well as the 30,000 others lost to gun violence each year—to keep standing up to the gun lobby and fighting for these lifesaving policies.