Americans overwhelmingly agree that it’s common sense to prevent dangerous people from accessing deadly weapons—yet there’s a dangerous gap in our laws that makes it easy for armed felons and violent criminals to illegally keep their guns after they’re convicted.
In our new report, Keeping Illegal Guns Out of Dangerous Hands: America’s Deadly Relinquishment Gap, we researched relinquishment laws in all 50 states and identified a series of best practices lawmakers can adopt to save lives from gun violence and close this deadly loophole.
An essential step to keeping Americans safe from gun violence is to ensure that armed individuals convicted of serious crimes simply turn in, sell, or otherwise rid themselves of their weapons after conviction.
In California, law enforcement reported that in 2014 alone, more than 3,200 people illegally kept their guns after a new criminal conviction, many of whom went on to commit crimes with those guns. Relinquishment laws would help prevent this.
California, which has the most progressive gun violence prevention laws in the nation, has acted to close this gap in one important way—the state has enacted a law that lays out clear, mandatory procedures for the relinquishment of guns by domestic abusers under a restraining order. Importantly, this law has teeth: it requires these abusers to provide receipts to a judge verifying that they sold or transferred their guns as required. But, the state hasn’t extended this best practice to the criminal context, even for people convicted of domestic abuse crimes.
Our research on gun relinquishment also revealed:
- States often rely on the honor system to manage the relinquishment process, trusting violent criminals and other prohibited people to voluntarily turn in their weapons.
- It costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year—$285 million in California alone—when prohibited people like violent felons are picked up on weapons charges and subsequently incarcerated, and many return to prison because they kept their guns illegally.
- Only five states provide any statutory process for disarming people prohibited from having guns—Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania
The firearm relinquishment gap puts Americans in all 50 states at grave risk. Keeping Illegal Guns Out of Dangerous Hands aims to address the challenge of relinquishment and to encourage lawmakers to establish best practices and mandatory procedures to stem the tide of illegal weapons in our communities. We hope this report will help provide a path to effective gun violence prevention for lawmakers, so fewer Americans fall victim to heartbreaking, preventable shootings.