Beyond Background Checks: More Ways to Stop Gun Violence

In the 212 days since the start of 2016, there have been 271 mass shootings in the United States. While overall crime rates have decreased over the last few decades and the country is holistically much safer, mass shootings have undoubtedly become a grave concern. Newtown, Aurora, San Bernardino, Orlando, and countless other communities have experienced a massive amount of loss and suffering. While the Obama administration has pushed hard for stricter gun control measures, like the President’s executive order to expand background checks to online gun sales earlier this year, there’s still much more progress to be made in protecting people’s lives.

Much of the talk surrounding effective gun control legislation revolves around the expansion of background check for gun purchases, and while background checks are indeed an effective way in reducing gun violence, there are still far too many victims of gun-related crimes. Legislators need to start talking about more than just background checks; there are other policies that can be used to prevent senseless tragedy in the future.

Renew the federal assault rifle ban. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban, or AWB, was passed in 1994 and expired in 2004. While rifles like the AR-15 are used rarely in shootings, they’re more often used in mass shootings because of the amount of damage they are able to inflict in a short span of time. A variant of the AR-15 was used in the San Bernardino shooting. The Bushmaster .223 semi-automatic assault rifle was used in the Sandy Hook massacre. A Sig Sauer MCX assault rifle was used in the Orlando tragedy. The list goes on and on, but the point is that shooters looking to cause a lot of harm turn to assault rifles. Only seven states have their own assault rifle ban, and while many cities have individual laws, it’s simply not enough. Given the number of mass shootings in America, it’s more necessary than ever to pass legislation specifically aimed at preventing the same problems in the future. The nation has gone 12 years since the expiration of the AWB – things have to change.

Repeal the PLCAA. 2005’s Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act was supported by liberals like Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Essentially, the PLCAA gives immunity to firearm companies if they negligently manufacture or sell a gun that is used in a crime. Because of the PLCAA, gun manufacturers have barely any accountability since they’re protected from lawsuits by victims of gun-related crimes. In one instance, for example, Hector Adames Jr., whose son was accidentally shot and killed while playing with a handgun with a friend, sued Beretta, the manufacturer of that handgun. Beretta didn’t put enough safety measures on the firearm, but the case was dismissed because of the PLCAA. The victim didn’t get reparations and the gun company didn’t have to make its product safer – the same scenario that constantly happens under the PLCAA. It has to go.

Fund gun violence research. In 1996, the NRA pressured House Republicans to attach the Dickey Amendment to the spending bill, which prevented the CDC to use its funds for any sort of firearm research. Last year, there was an attempt to repeal the amendment that failed, and unfortunately, the consequences are enormous. Gun control measures that are truly effective depend on research to support them. The federal government needs to understand both the magnitude and depths of the problem as well as learning what types of policies empirically prevent gun violence. Only then can there be gun control laws that can dramatically cut down shootings.

Simply put, background checks are a good first step in fighting gun violence, but other policies do exist. And it will be difficult for Congress to reach a consensus on any of these issues, but there needs to be far more discussion about more efficient ways to address the mass shooting epidemic in the country.


[Photo Credit: M&R Glasgow]