6 Bold Ideas for Gun Reform That Could Actually Happen

“People who attempt suicide with a gun die nine times out of 10, whereas other common means (such as cutting and overdose) are much more survivable. That’s why the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013 (New York SAFE Act) directed mental health professionals to report suicidal patients to a state agency, which could subsequently seize any guns they might own, and add their name to a “no buy” database for five years. Even in New York, though, this provision is controversial and has faced repeated court challenges. We shouldn’t expect to see similar legislation proliferating across the country anytime soon.

Instead, suicide prevention activists have been trying to cultivate a culture of community responsibility among gun owners, asking them to reach out to friends in crisis with an offer to store their guns after a divorce, job loss, death in the family or other trauma. The idea of letting your neighbor or your hunting buddy lock your gun up in his safe for a while might be more palatable than handing it over to the sheriff. Suicide prevention groups have partnered with gun shops and shooting ranges, first in New Hampshire and now in 11 other states, to spread the idea through posters and pamphlets.”

“Many states have gradually lowered the bar to obtain a permit to carry a handgun in public places. The trends have been toward fewer hours of classroom instruction (reduced in some cases to zero), eliminating shooting requirements at the range, and lowering fees. Tennessee now offers a gun carry permit course that can be completed entirely online. Other states, such as Kansas, have eliminated licensure altogether. When Texas lowered training standards for its concealed handgun license in 2013 to just four hours of classroom instruction, lawmakers said that there simply wasn’t enough material to justify the 10 hours previously required. Typical curriculum covers operation of a firearm and some guidance about where and when it might be appropriate to use it. Some gun violence prevention advocates would like to see the curriculum expanded to include strategies in de-escalation, risk avoidance, safe storage and first aid.”

Voters back Joe Biden’s gun control plan. It’s not clear if the evidence does.

“The fundamental reality about the US gun problem is that it’s a function of how many guns Americans have. Heavily reducing that stockpile may be the only way to significantly reduce America’s out of control gun deaths”

“”Gun control policies that don’t confront the core issue — that America simply has too many guns — are doomed to merely nibble around the edges. Everywhere in the world, people get into arguments. Every country has residents who are dangerous to themselves or others because of mental illness. Every country has bigots and extremists. But here, it’s uniquely easy for a person to obtain a gun, letting otherwise tense but nonlethal conflicts escalate into deadly violence.””

“Roughly 39,000 Americans die from guns every year. Mass shootings draw attention to this problem, but everyday suicides and violent confrontations that unnecessarily escalate to homicide due to the easy availability of guns are the norm in the United States. If policymakers are serious about changing this, dramatically reducing the number of guns is the path forward.”

Biden’s ‘Commonsense’ Gun Controls Make Little Sense

“Biden wants to prohibit production and sale of “assault weapons” and require that current owners either surrender their firearms to the government or follow the same tax and registration requirements that apply to machine guns. Yet he concedes that the 1994 federal “assault weapon” ban, which expired in 2004, had no impact on the lethality of legal firearms.

The problem, according to Biden, was that manufacturers could comply with the law by “making minor modifications to their products—modifications that leave them just as deadly.” But there is no way around that problem, since laws like these are based on “military-style” features, such as folding stocks, threaded barrels, and bayonet mounts, that have nothing to do with a weapon’s destructive power.

Even if the government could eliminate all guns with those features, would-be mass shooters would have plenty of equally lethal alternatives. Several of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history were carried out with weapons that would not be covered by Biden’s ban.

Biden also would ban “high-capacity magazines,” which politicians generally define as magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. Americans own millions of those; they are standard for many of the most popular handguns and rifles.

The rationale for the 10-round limit is that the need to switch magazines can create a “critical pause” during which a mass shooter might be overpowered or his victims might escape. But as a federal judge noted when he ruled against California’s ban on “large-capacity magazines” in 2019, that restriction also can create a “lethal pause” for a crime victim “trying to defend her home and family”—a far more common situation.”

This Draconian Bill Would Turn Millions of Peaceful Gun Owners Into Felons

“The Sabika Sheikh Firearm Licensing and Registration Act would establish a national database that is supposed to include every gun in the country, make it a felony to own a firearm or ammunition without a license from the Justice Department, ban magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and “ammunition that is 0.50 caliber or greater,” and criminalize possession of a “military-style weapon” without a special license. Violating the bill’s provisions would be punishable by hefty fines and long minimum prison sentences”

“Licenses would be limited to people 21 or older who pass a criminal background check, undergo a “psychological examination,” complete at least 24 hours of training, and pay an $800 “fee” for liability insurance. The examination, which may include assessing “other members of the household in which the individual resides,” would be conducted by a government-approved psychologist charged with determining whether the applicant is “psychologically unsuited to possess a firearm.”
The psychologist would be required to interview “any spouse of the individual, any former spouse of the individual, and at least 2 other persons who are a member of the family of, or an associate of, the individual to further determine the state of the mental, emotional, and relational stability of the individual in relation to firearms.” Denial of a license would be mandatory if the applicant has ever been “hospitalized” because of “conduct that endangers self or others,” a “brain disease” such as “dementia or Alzheimer’s,” or a “mental illness, disturbance, or diagnosis,” including (but not necessarily limited to) depression, homicidal ideation, suicidal ideation, attempted suicide, and addiction to a controlled substance or alcohol.

That disqualification goes far beyond the psychiatric restrictions that federal law currently imposes on gun ownership”

“In addition to those mandatory disqualifications, the attorney general “may” deny a gun license to someone who “has a chronic mental illness or disturbance, or a brain disease,” is addicted to drugs or alcohol, has attempted suicide, or has “engaged in conduct that posed a danger to self or others,” as determined by “prior psychological treatment or evaluation.” That casts the net even wider, since it includes people who were never hospitalized for these reasons and leaves open the question of how the government determines that someone is “addicted” or has a “mental illness or disturbance.” According to some estimates, nearly half of Americans qualify for a psychiatric diagnosis at some point in their lives, which gives you a sense of how expansively “mental illness” is defined but is hardly a sound basis for denying people their Second Amendment rights.”

“Lee now wants to transform millions of Americans into felons, threatening them with long prison terms for peaceful conduct that violates no one’s rights.”

“The system Lee imagines is completely impractical, since gun owners would be understandably reluctant to identify themselves and their firearms so they could be entered in a federal database and required to apply for licenses. Politicians pursuing far less ambitious gun registration schemes have found that voluntary compliance is the exception rather than the rule. Since the Justice Department would not have the resources to go after millions of recalcitrant gun owners even if it knew who they were, the result would be random application of Lee’s draconian penalties to the few who happened to attract the government’s attention.”

“Lee’s bill so far has no cosponsors, and it is unlikely to make much progress.”

What Democrats can (realistically) do about gun violence

“There are some evidence-based approaches policymakers could take:

1) Improve the physical spaces that people live around. In many US towns and cities, there are vacant or blighted lots. But what if these neglected spaces were cleaned, greened, and maintained?

A 2018 randomized controlled trial in PNAS found that doing this in Philadelphia reduced crime, violence, and fears of both — without displacing these problems to neighboring communities. The effects were at times huge: Gun assaults decreased by more than 29 percent in impoverished neighborhoods with restored lots.

Experts have several possible theories for why this works, from getting more people in the area (most shooters don’t want to commit crimes around witnesses) to removing a space where would-be shooters could stash guns. Whatever the explanation, it’s a promising approach.

2) Make young hands less idle. A disproportionate amount of gun violence is committed by young people, especially boys and men. One way to stop that is by occupying boys and young men with other things, like school or work.

There’s good evidence for this. A recent study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that New York City youth placed into summer job programs through a lottery were less likely to get caught in crimes, particularly youth with previous interaction with the criminal justice system. Another study, published in the American Economic Journal, found that keeping kids in school longer — by, say, raising the age or grade to legally drop out — likely cuts down on criminal activity.

3) Addressing drug misuse. Drugs, including (and particularly) alcohol, can contribute to violent crime, whether it’s by inhibiting people’s judgment, leading them to commit crimes to obtain money for drugs, or fueling illegal drug markets.

A 2020 report from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice highlighted several areas where policymakers could act to reduce problems with drugs. They could limit alcohol sales at a given time or place. They could raise the alcohol tax (though that would be politically contentious). They could support evidence-based addiction treatment, perhaps through public health programs like Medicaid. Overall, the idea is to limit both supply and demand.

All of the approaches above could fit into the “Build Back Better” infrastructure bill that Democrats are working on — whether as explicit infrastructure projects (in the case of greening vacant lots) or through incentives for localities or states to adopt certain policies (like discouraging zoning laws that allow excessive alcohol outlets in an area).

These are just some examples of what lawmakers could do.”

“There are many ways to act on gun violence beyond the policy solutions that typically get a lot of media attention. Whether Democrats take up those alternatives remains to be seen.”

Record Gun Sales and Diverse Ownership Mean Rocky Prospects for Restrictions

“Sure enough, “Americans’ appetite for gun control is the lowest it has been since 2016,” according to Gallup. And while a large majority of Democrats still favor tighter restrictions, support has declined even in that group by five points. New gun owners, along with long-time shooters, are likely to respond to stricter gun laws with prickly defiance.

“Previous studies have proposed two sides of gun culture: one focused on recreational use and a second on self-defense. But the new BU study identifies a third mentality, made up of people who view the defense of the Second Amendment as necessary to freedom in the United States,” Boston University (BU) announced last summer. “This so-called ‘gun culture 3.0’ has increased the most in states that have strengthened their gun laws to the greatest degree, suggesting it may be triggered by perceived threats on individual liberty by the government.”

In states with secure gun rights, owners tend to be non-political and dedicated to recreation and self-defense, the study found. But restrictive laws prompt people to become resistant and to view their firearms as hedges against the state.

“The result is a few million people who are convinced that any genuine firearm violence prevention effort is the first step in a scheme to take away all of their rights and disenfranchise them,” groused Claire Boine, one of the BU researchers.

We saw the results just a few years ago in terms of massive noncompliance with “assault weapon” registration laws in Connecticut and New York. “Empire State gun owners are largely ignoring one of the signature elements of the watershed legislation,” the New York Daily News observed in 2015.”