Measures to Reduce Gun Violence

Guns are getting into the hands of people who use them to injure and kill others. During the period of the Vietnam War 58,000 American soldiers died in battle while 82,000 Americans were murdered by Americans by handguns alone. (Travis, J and Smaritto, Fordham Urban law Journal, Vol 19, Issue 3, Article 16, 1991.) Below, measures are briefly described that could be used to reduce the unacceptable rate of murder of Americans by Americans.



Under federal law persons falling into some ten categories are prohibited from possessing a firearm, or firearms of a specific type. Examples include persons who have been convicted of a felony or violent domestic misdemeanor, those who have been judged as mentally incompetent and illegal aliens. However, current laws make it quite easy for persons in prohibited categories to purchase firearms and several categories of persons at high risk of misusing firearms are not included in current prohibitions.


  1. Require background checks on all purchasers

Currently, at the Federal level only sales by licensed dealers require a background check. An estimated 40 percent of guns are sold privately — at gun shows, online, at flea markets or garage sales. These sales are considered “private” and do not require background checks. Private sales enable criminals and persons with mental illness to purchase guns. In addition to private sales, firearms classified as “curios or relics” can be sold without the purchaser undergoing a background check. Firearms with this designation can also be imported. As a result, dangerous, serviceable weapons, including military surplus semiautomatic, reach civilian hands without undergoing normal regulations. Both the private sale and “curios or relics” loopholes should be closed. Background checks are quick and law-abiding buyers have nothing to fear from them. Background checks have been required for all weapons sales in California since 1991. New York passed a law requiring background checks on all guns sales this year and a universal background check law is expected to become effective in Colorado as of July 1st. (Sources: Center for American Progress, Op Cit.; report.pdf;;


  1. Close data gaps in NICS

Fully fund reporting of Mental Health and Drug Abuser data to NICS

NICS, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, is used to conduct background checks on prospective gun buyers. The background check is intended to insure that purchasers are not in one of the prohibited categories. However, there are serious gaps in NICS data. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have submitted fewer than 100 mental health records to the federal NICS database. Seventeen states have submitted fewer than ten mental health records, and four states have not submitted any mental health records at all. Jared Loughner, who carried out the Tucson massacre, was able to buy a shotgun although he was a regular drug abuser, because the armed forces had not forwarded this data to NICS. From 2009 to 2011 Congress has supplied only 5.3% of the amount authorized under the NICS Improvement Amendments Act. Full funding is needed to enable states and federal agencies to comply with reporting requirements. Further information:


  1. Require tamper-proof, secure ID for purchase

Use of fake identification allows prohibited persons to purchase firearms. In 2000 and 2001, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) attempted to use fake driver’s licenses five times in different states to buy guns and succeeded in buying a gun from a licensed dealer in every case. In 2005, Congress passed the REAL ID Act to ensure that more secure, tamper-resistant identification could be required for certain critical functions. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should issue regulations clarifying that this type of ID is required for firearms purchases.( Source:


  1. Increase range of prohibited persons

Federal prohibitions on eligibility to purchase a firearm omit several categories of persons at high risk of using a gun to commit a homicide or suicide. Studies indicate that high-risk categories not currently prohibited from purchases or possession include: those under 21; persons convicted of any violent misdemeanor; persons under temporary domestic violence restraining orders; juvenile felons; and alcohol abusers. (Sources for all subtopics: Johns Hopkins Centerfor Gun Policy and Research, October 2012; Law Center to Prevent gun violence)


Set 21 as minimum age to purchase or possess firearms

Although one must be at least 20 to possess a hand gun, there is no minimum age at all to legally possess a long gun. Homicide rates rise sharply in the late teens and peak at age 20 and suicide rates are also very high at these ages. Licensed dealers can sell long guns to anyone 18 or over but they can sell handguns only to persons who are at least 20. Private sellers can sell long guns to anyone of any age. Given the data on age-specific homicide and suicide rates, a minimum age of 20 for the purchaser should be established for sales for all firearms by both private and licensed dealers. Since long guns are as deadly as hand guns, there should also be a minimum age for owning a long gun.


Violent misdemeanors, Juvenile felons and Violent domestic abusers

People who have committed a violent misdemeanor, have a record of a felony while a juvenile, or have a record of domestic violence are two to ten times more likely to commit a homicide than purchasers of hand guns that do not have convictions of these types. While convicted felons are prohibited from purchasing firearms, many charged withfelonies are convicted of lesser charges as a result of plea agreements. Thus all those convicted of a violent misdemeanor should be prohibited from purchase of a firearm for some defined period, e.g., five to ten years. Similarly, those convicted of a felony while a juvenile should be prohibited for a similar number of years following the conviction. While those with a permanent restraining order due to domestic violence are prohibited from purchasing firearms, those under a temporary restraining order are not. These persons pose high risks for their spouses and should be prohibited both from purchasing and possessing firearms until a final determination is reached.


Alcohol abusers

Alcohol abuse is strongly associated with the perpetration of violence. While federal firearm laws prohibit users and abusers of illegal drugs, they do not prohibit alcoholics or alcohol abusers from possessing firearms in spite of the connection between alcohol abuse and violence. Expanding firearm prohibitions to include persons who are alcoholics or problem drinkers could reduce gun violence.


  1. Require Permit-to-Purchase

Permit-to-purchase systems can require potential gun purchasers to apply for a license directly with a law enforcement agency. The purchaser is photographed and fingerprinted. Such permit-to-purchase systems are associated with significantly fewer guns going to criminals. (Sources: Webster, D., et al., The Case for gun Policy Reforms in America, Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research).


Information is critical both to enforce existing laws and to develop future instruments to reduce gun violence. There are currently hurdles to collection, access and handling of key types of data as well as to undertaking relevant research.

  1. AFT (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms)

The ATF is charged with protecting communities from violent criminals and illegal use and trafficking of firearms. It is charged with partnering with communities, industry, law enforcement, and public safety agencies to safeguard the public through information sharing and research. However, its ability to carry out these functions is severely hampered by restrictions on its use, collection, and manipulation of data. [and lack of funds?]


  1. Remove restrictions

Remove prohibition on creating electronic data bases

The ATF is prohibited from creating a computerized data base of its records. The AFT receives an average of 1.3 million records monthly from dealers who go out of business; records on persons who buy two or more handguns within a five-day period from a single dealer; and records obtained through tracing guns obtained at crime scenes. All of these records must be kept on microfiche or as paper records. In 2012, for example, the ATF undertook more than 333,400 firearm traces using this antiquated system, wasting scarce human resources and frustrating criminal investigations. Computerization of this data is also vital to identify straw purchasers and missing weapons. (Source: Center for American Progress, Marcy 18, 2013).


Lengthen Background Check data retention

The information supplied for a background check is, in the case of approved purchasers, destroyed within 24 hours of the NICS response. This prevents the ATF from comparing background checks to information in AFT files. In particular, it prevents the AFT from identifying legal gun purchasers who purchase multiple handguns within short periods of time but carry out the purchases through multiple dealers. Multiple purchases by a single buyer are likely to indicate activity of a straw purchaser and signal gun trafficking. Retention period should be returned to its original length of six months, or at least to the previous 90 day requirement, to enable the AFT to identify suspicious patterns. (Source: Center for American Progress, March 18, 2013).


Increase information sharing

Data obtained through tracing ownership of guns used in crimes cannot be used in civil proceedings, nor can it be released to the public except in highly aggregated form. These prohibitions prevent use of evidence relevant to gun-dealer malfeasance and render it impossible to identify interstate and international gun-trafficking patterns. (Source: Center for American Progress, March 18, 2013).


  1. Add data sources

Firearms Transaction Records

Federal legislation prohibits the ATF from receiving a copy of Firearms Transaction Records that dealers are required to keep. These Records provide the name and address of purchasers and weapons purchased. Consequently, when tracing crime guns, the AFT is forced to rely on records kept by firearms manufacturers and dealers. In contrast, in California handgun sales records are permanently retained in a California Department of Justice database and starting January 1, 2014, long gun sales records also will be permanently retained by the California Department of Justice. Given the 7.5 million transactions annually, a computerized database of firearm sales is needed either at the federal or state level across the nation. (Source: Travis, J. and Smarrito, W., A Modest Proposal to End Gun Running In America, Fordham Law Review)


Add reports of large-quantity sales

Sales of large numbers of guns to a single individual is a signal of gun trafficking and should be reported to the AFT.


Mandatory reporting of lost or stolen weapons

Current federal legislation prohibits the AFT from requiring dealers to conduct inventories on an annual basis. Thus discrepancies between dealer purchases and sales compared to weapons still in their possession are not reported. In addition there is no requirement for private persons to report missing weapons, and half a million guns are stolen from residences annually. Reporting of stolen or lost guns is critical to efforts to recover them and would alert law enforcement officials topersons, including dealers, who repeatedly report guns lost or stolen, an indicator of engagement in firearm trafficking. Mandatory reporting would also prevent false claims regarding thefts used to hide involvement in trafficking. (Source: Center for American Progress, Blindfolded, and with One hand Tied Behind the Back, March 18, 2013).



  1. Increase research

Research funding for gun violence prevention should be increased at the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and through the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). Over the past two decades, funding of research into preventing death and injuries from guns at the CDC fell from over $2.6 million to $0.1 million. Similarly, between 1995 and 2003, NIJ distributed $4.7 million in firearms-related research grants but only $0.56 million from 2004 through 2008. More research is critically needed to craft sound policy. (Source: American Psychological Association. Psychological Science Agenda, February 2013. Gun Violence Research, A History of the Federal Funding Freeze.; Mayors Against Illegal Guns A Blueprint for Federal Action on Illegal Guns)



The per capita rate of gun deaths is, in most areas, highly correlated with the per capita prevalence of guns. Thus, reduction of availability provides a major promising avenue toward reduction of gun violence.


  1. Ban assault weapons

Assault weapons are disproportionately used in mass shootings.Assault weapons are also the weapons of choice for gang members and drug dealers and are all too often used against police officers. Although assault weapons only accounted for 6 percent of crime guns prior to the assault weapons ban, they are the weapon of choice in the high-profile, multiple-death massacres that have occurred in malls, movie theaters and schools. They are also increasingly being faced by the police on the streets, resulting in the police being out-gunned in their law enforcement efforts. In the decade following the U.S. assault weapons ban, assault weapons recovered by police at crime scenes dropped by 70 percent. (Sources, International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), Legislative Agenda for the 113th Congress; Webster, D., et al., The Case for gun Policy Reforms in America, Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research)


  1. Limit magazine capacity

Large capacity magazines (LCM) enable a criminal to kill large numbers of people without re-loading. Thus ammunition capacity is relevant to public safety.


  1. Limit gun or bullet purchases per 90 days

Federal law does not limit the number of guns a person may purchase in any given time. Laws restricting multiple purchases of firearms prevent gun traffickers from buying guns in bulk and reselling them to prohibited purchasers. Studies show that when a single individual purchases multiple firearms, these weapons are frequently used in crime. A model law could follow New York City, which limits all firearm sales to one per person per 90 days. (Source: Legal Community Against Violence, Model Laws for a Safer America,


  1. Waiting periods, particularly on 1st purchases (IACP, Op Cit.;

Currently there is no waiting period for the purchase of firearms at the federal level. However, eleven states and the District of Columbia have waiting periods that apply to the purchase of some or all firearms, with waiting periods from 24 hours to 14 days. Waiting periods provide time for thorough background investigations as well as a cooling off period, which can save lives in cases of suicide and domestic disputes. (Source: Legal Community Against Violence, Op. cit.)


  1. Buy-backs (Source: Webster, et al., op cit.)

Bans on the manufacture or sale of particular classes of weapons reduce availability over the long term. Given the large numbers of weapons in civilian hands, reducing availability in the near term requires purchase of these weapons. After it banned semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, the Australian government developed a process for the government to buy these banned weapons from citizens. In the decade following enactment of the policy, there was not a single mass shooting.



Perhaps the most effective means for reducing gun violence is to hold gun owners and users responsible for the damage caused when guns are misused. There are enormous economic costs associated with gun violence. In 2005, firearm related deaths and injuries resulted in medical and lost productivity expenses of about $32 billion. Gun owners or others in the value chain should pay these costs, as the case warrants, not the general public.


  1. Increase severity of penalties for breaking laws

Data from federal gun trafficking investigations indicate that gun dealers who break or bend the law are the most important channel for diverting guns to traffickers and criminals. Such dealers supply guns to gangs by cooperating with gun traffickers.


  1. Increase law enforcement

Prosecution of persons who fail background checks could be increased by requiring the AFT to report all such failures to local and state police, which may be best positioned to address the threat. (Mayors Against Illegal Guns, A Blueprint for Federal Action on Illegal Guns, 2009).


  1. Require owner liability insurance

Guns do not have to be insured for the damage they do. Automobile owners are responsible for paying for damage done by use of their vehicles. Over the past 20 years, $100 billion tax dollars have been spent to pay for the costs of gun violence. Insurance would also address a major problem inherent in the NICS system. NICS is a “Pass-Fail” system. However, many people who can “pass” a NICS background check may still be at high risk for misuse of guns or for allowing a firearm to reach people likely to misuse it. Examples include alcohol abusers, young adults, people with histories of criminal activity, and gang members. Insurance companies have the capacity to rate such risks and set insurance rates accordingly. Gun owners should be required to hold insurance both to increase their responsibility for the use of weapons they own and to pay for the costs of gun violence.


  1. Remove restrictions on manufacturer liability

Under current Federal legislation, gun manufacturers cannot be sued for negligence when weapons they produce are used in crimes, except if the weapon is defective, or if the manufacturer has has knowingly sold a gun to someone who could not pass a background check, or is engaged in other criminal behavior.


Product characteristics could significantly reduce gun violence. Techniques include guns that can be operated only by authorized persons, more efficient identification of the gun from which bullets originate, and safe-design elements. Conversely, gun violence reduction is impeded by firearms classified as “curios or relics”.


  1. Subject firearms to the Consumer Product Safety Commission

We regulate the design of numerous consumer products — such as cribs and small, high-powered magnets — that cause far fewer deaths than firearms. Accidental shootings, particularly by children, could be prevented by imposing safety standards on guns.


  1. Improve gun ID numbers

Gun manufacturers must include unique, identifying information – such as serial numbers – on every gun. Criminals have attempted to obliterate those marks on thousands of guns recovered in crimes each year.

Guns should be required to have tamper-resistant serial numbers either inside the gun barrel or visible only in infrared light to make it extremely difficult to obliterate all identifying information. (Source: Mayors Against Illegal Guns, A Blueprint for Federal Action on Illegal guns, August, 2009).


  1. Push recognition technology [add an empty line here]

    1. Authorized user only operation

Research is underway to produce a firearm that would recognize one or more authorized users. The firing mechanism would be enabled for authorized users and disabled in the case of non-authorized users. Such technology could prevent accidental use of firearms by children, use of guns by non-authorized persons to commit suicide, and use of stolen weapons to commit crimes. [biometrics?]


    1. Bullet tracing

Currently, to determine whether a bullet at a crime scene came from a specific gun, a comparison microscope is used to evaluate the degree to which markings on that bullet match others fired during a test of the gun. However, it may be possible to use micro-stamping so that each gun imprints a unique set of symbols in each bullet fired from it. Further development of this technology could provide faster and more accurate identification of the gun used.


One avenue to reducing firearm-related violence in the United States is to intervene in systems that support, or do not actively intervene to prevent, violence systems.


    1. Neighborhood action programs

In communities where violence is accepted as an appropriate and even expected way to solve conflict, changing these norms can be an effective way to reduce gun violence. To do so, individuals at high risk for violence and potentially lethal disputes need to be identified and addressed using a variety of conflict mediation techniques. New norms must be consistently and abundantly conveyed through public education campaigns, community events, and mobilization of community members.


    1. Mental health programs

Mental health care is often not sufficiently accessible in many regions and for many income groups. Mental illness has played a role in high-profile massacres. Both treatment and reporting of mental illness to NICS need to be improved. In particular, language in the Affordable Care Act has been interpreted as prohibiting doctors from asking their patients about guns and gun safety. If this is not the case, clarification that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit or regulate such communication should be provided.


    1. Economic pressure

Pressure can be put on economic entities that support firearms. Such entities include weapon manufacturers and retailers, restaurants and hotels that allow concealed carry and stock funds. Weapon manufacturers and retailers can be pressured to cease advertising and selling assault weapons to civilian markets. For example, Walmart has responded to pressure to improve its environmental footprint. It could be pressured to cease selling assault weapons or limiting purchases of bullets; Starbucks could be pressured not to allow concealed carry; and stock funds that invest in weapon manufacturers could be pressured to cease doing so.


    1. Elected officials (score cards)

The NRA gives each congressman a rating that reflects the degree to which he or she supports NRA initiatives. Legislators could also be given a rating on the extent to which they support initiatives and laws that would reduce gun violence.


i This paper was prepared by Naomi Peña, CCAGV

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