A majority of Americans say they want gun laws to be stricter. So what can be done?
On Saturday, a white supremacist murdered three Black people—Angela Michelle Carr, 52; Jerrald Gallion, 29; and Anolt Joseph “AJ” Laguerre Jr., 19—at a Dollar General in Jacksonville, Fla. Two days later, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill professor Zijie Yan was fatally shot by one of his former advisees. Ubiquitous gun violence is so uniquely an American problem, these two recent shootings have barely broken through the news cycle.
Gun violence also looms in our future, and in the hands of the Supreme Court. Two cases in particular will be instrumental in setting a precedent for how we operate with guns in the U.S.
- In June of 2021, the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen ruling established that every American, regardless of the state, has the constitutional right to carry a gun in public for self-defense. A “proper cause” or “special need” is no longer required. Despite studies showing that restrictions on gun ownership lead to fewer mass shootings, the Court decided that previous limitations infringed on citizens’ right to bear arms.
- The second case, United States v. Rahimi, which is still pending, asks if banning individuals under domestic violence restraining orders from possessing firearms is legal. Zackery Rahimi, the defendant, had a protective order placed on him after assaulting and threatening his girlfriend with a gun. He was involved in multiple shootings and was charged with violating federal law. In this case, Rahimi is arguing that the gun ban against people with restraining orders is a violation of the Second Amendment. Lawyers for Rahimi responded in a brief saying, “The founders could have adopted a complete ban on firearms to combat intimate partner violence. They didn’t.”
“We’re comparing historical gun laws without considering how technology or society has changed,” said Angela Ferrell-Zabala, executive director of Moms Demand Action, during a gun reform webinar this summer hosted by Reproaction. “Bruen has really unleashed chaos in our judicial system, [because] courts around the country are coming to very different conclusions about the same issue.”
Both the Bruen and Rahimi rulings and subsequent changes (or lack of changes) to gun policy will have dire consequences for people in the U.S.—particularly women.
- An average of 70 U.S. women are shot and killed by an intimate partner every month.
- A woman is five times more likely to be murdered when her abuser of violence has access to a gun. This becomes even more likely when the woman is American Indian, Black or Latina.
The U.S. is a global outlier when it comes to gun deaths. According to New York Times’ “Gun Control, Explained“:
“America’s gun homicide rate was 33 per one million people in 2009, far exceeding the average among developed countries. In Canada and Britain, it was 5 per million and 0.7 per million, respectively, which also corresponds with differences in gun ownership.
“The United States is not actually more prone to crime than other developed countries, according to a landmark 1999 study. Rather … American crime is simply more lethal.
“A New Yorker is just as likely to be robbed as a Londoner, for instance, but the New Yorker is 54 times more likely to be killed in the process. … The discrepancy, like so many other anomalies of American violence, came down to guns.”
A majority of Americans (58 percent) say gun laws in the country should be stricter. An even larger majority of Americans (62 percent) expect the level of gun violence to increase over the next five years.
So what can be done?
National Gun Violence Prevention Measures
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act
Signed into law in June 2022, The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) was the first major federal gun safety bill passed in almost three decades. Bipartisan cooperation to back the law was spurred by two tragic and almost back-to-back shootings: the racist mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., that killed 10 people; and the Robb Elementary School shooting in in Uvalde, Texas, that resulted in the death of 19 students and two teachers—the third-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
The BCSA makes the U.S. safer by improving and enhancing the background check system, partially closing the dating partner loophole, and expanding community violence intervention and mental health programs.
Biden Executive Order to Reduce Gun Violence
President Biden announced an executive order in March with “the goal of increasing the number of background checks conducted before firearm sales, moving the U.S. as close to universal background checks as possible without additional legislation.”
Within the order, Biden challenged Congress to pass stronger legislation—namely, “by banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, requiring background checks for all gun sales, requiring safe storage of firearms, closing the dating violence restraining order loophole, and repealing gun manufacturers’ immunity from liability.”
Taking steps toward these policies, an assault weapons ban was introduced into Congress in January by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). But its passage is an uphill battle, largely due to Republican opposition and the gun lobby’s large influence in politics.
State-Level Gun Policy Can Provide National Blueprint
Federal lawmakers have a long way to go to decrease gun deaths nationwide and pass common-sense gun legislation. But while we wait for national action, new state policies—such as Michigan’s and Maryland’s—can provide a blueprint.
In April, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) signed a series of gun violence prevention bills that created universal background checks for all firearm purchases and safe storage requirements.
- One bill requires gun owners to unload and lock up their firearms if a minor is likely to be around.
- Another reduced firearm storage unit prices, incentivizing buyers to buy them.
- The bills will also close loopholes in the law, ensuring people buying guns have proficient background checks.
The legislation package was passed in the aftermath of a shooting at Michigan State University that killed three students and wounded three, with a gun that was bought legally.
In May, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) signed into law stricter measures on concealed carry permits. The new law prohibits most gun owners from bringing their weapons into private properties without permission, and into public spaces such as schools, healthcare facilities, government buildings, bars and restaurants. The penalty for illegally carrying a firearm has been changed from three to five years. Additionally, the age to obtain a concealed carry permit has been raised to 21 instead of 18 years old. The legislation will go into effect on October 1.
Having Community Conversations About Gun Violence
Overall, 32 percent of Americans say they own a gun—but gun policy continues to be one of the most polarizing issues in U.S. politics, with Americans sharply divided down party lines. So when it comes to moving the needle on gun violence prevention, Ferrell-Zabala said Americans must speak to one another, honestly and respectfully.
“Oftentimes I have found that my most fruitful conversations have been with people that have not aligned fully with me. When I step back and have a human to human conversation, oftentimes I walk away and find out that they are more aligned with me than they think.”
Within the U.S. political climate, Ferrell-Zabala said we’ve got to talk to each other outside of spaces that are comfortable for us.
“I know not everyone is equipped and ready, and there are real reasons why people are protective, especially in marginalized communities. But there are people with the capacity to do it, and we should do more of it. We have got to not only focus on laws and elections but also focus on the culture of guns in this country.”
No action that you take is too small, Ferrell-Zabala concluded.
“Having a conversation with a neighbor, doing a phone bank, nothing is too small. There’s a lot to be hopeful about but there is a lot of work to be done.”
To get involved with Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety, text READY to 644-33.
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