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.”

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.”