Good news about gun reform and gun policy

Good news red stamp
Good news red stamp

Since I have been doing the work I do with gun violence prevention over the last 15 years, I have seen support for expanded background checks and other reasonable gun laws remain strong and almost unchanged. The latest Pew Research Center poll shows that the majority of Americans on all sides of the issue and political persuasion continue to support measures they know will reduce shootings and gun violence:

Two years after the failure of Senate legislation to expand background checks on gun purchases, the public continues to overwhelmingly support making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks. Currently, 85% of Americans – including large majorities of Democrats (88%) and Republicans (79%) – favor expanded background checks, little changed from May 2013 (81%). (…)

Nearly eight-in-ten (79%) favor laws to prevent people with mental illness from purchasing guns, 70% back the creation of a federal database to track all gun sales, while a smaller majority (57%) supports a ban on assault-style weapons.

Almost identical shares of Republicans (81%) and Democrats (79%) support laws to prevent the mentally ill from buying guns. But other proposals are more divisive: 85% of Democrats favor creation of a database for the federal government to track gun sales, compared with 55% of Republicans. And while 70% of Democrats back an assault-weapons ban, only about half of Republicans (48%) favor this proposal. (…)

While there is broad support for several specific gun policy proposals – and opinion on these measures has not changed significantly since 2013 – the public continues to be more evenly divided in fundamental attitudes about whether it is more important to control gun ownership or to protect the right of Americans to own guns.

Currently, 50% say it is more important to control gun ownership, while 47% say it is more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns.

Let’s be clear. Our politicians are not listening to the majority because too many of them are in the deep pockets of the corporate gun lobby. The influence of a minority has a hold on policies that could save lives. The right of Americans to own guns will not be affected by expanded background checks. Only Americans who should not have guns in the first place will be affected by such a law. In states and in countries that have strong gun laws, fewer people are dying from gunshot injuries. There is unmistakable evidence that this is true.

But the gun lobby doesn’t like evidence or research because it mostly does not come down on their side of this hyperbolic and controversial issue. Never mind the gun lobby. Research is happening anyway and there is nothing they can do to stop it when it comes from a place they can’t control or de-fund.

The gun lobby would love the American public to believe that they are having a lot of success and the rest of us aren’t. Some pretty big wins have come on the side of gun safety reform. Laws to keep guns from domestic abusers have now passed in 18 states since 2013. Other gun safety reform bills are highlighted at the link above from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. According to the Law Center, 18 states have passed some form of background checks for private gun sales. Expanded background check laws were recently passed in Oregon and Washington state with others in the works.

Another bit of good news about gun laws and research comes from the city of Seattle where a law was passed to tax ammunition and weapons sales with the proceeds to go to research about gun violence and prevention. This article from The Trace goes into more detail. From the article:

e Seattle City Council voted Monday to tax firearm and ammunition sales to fund research and prevention programs aimed at gun violence reduction. One initiative that local officials say the sales tax could fund is an “intervention” program under development at the city’s Harborview Medical Center, where patients admitted for gunshot wounds are far more likely to be rehospitalized for another gun injury, commit a crime, or end up murdered, according to a 2014 study by the hospital.

While many public health experts have singled out trauma wards as places to intervene in the cycle of urban violence, the proposed Harborview model borrows heavily from methods generally used in areas other than gun violence prevention. For instance, instead of losing contact with patients once they leave the hospital, as is normally the case, trauma center physicians and social workers would stay in communication with victims of gun violence, mimicking treatment services for those dealing with alcohol or substance abuse. The program was developed by University of Washington academics and physicians in 2014, and is expected to launch later this year.

It is worth studying to see if this kind of model could be duplicated in other hospitals in large urban areas where many young people with gunshot injuries are treated. If lives can be saved and we can reduce the financial, emotional and physical costs to gun violence as a result, it is a win-win. More from the article:

Although both alcohol abuse and gun violence are examples of risky, dangerous behaviors, the social workers and physicians at Harborview acknowledge there is no evidence the hospital’s approach will work. There is no research that shows substance-abuse treatment methods can be effective when applied to gun violence victims, and ultimately reduce violent crime. Harborview will produce a study of its work, which will be the first of its kind.

“It’s important to note that we want to test this,” Haggerty says. “We’re not assuming that just because [substance-abuse treatment programs] are strong models that they’ll be effective in this case.”

The 2004 study of Youth ALIVE! and Caught in the Crossfire revealed some limitations to hospital-based counseling as a means of limiting gun violence. While arrests declined dramatically for those young people in the program, researchers found they were no less likely to be reinjured.

How will Harborview know if it works?

Much the same way it judged the success of its alcohol-intervention initiative: If the people receiving the treatment show a decline in frequency of hospitalization, arrest, or death. Caseworkers will also rely on participants to report on their health and mental status along with whether they avoid guns after receiving services.

Research and studies are important tools to be used for the benefit of all. Gun violence is a public health issue and ought to be studied just like other issues related to public health such as smoking, or drunk driving or alcohol abuse. Health care providers are interested in the social determinants that affect the health of patients. Shootings and gun violence interfere with healthy communities and citizens.

California is getting things done with gun safety reform as well. The city of Los Angeles just passed a law banning high capacity magazine sales:

“People who want to defend their families don’t need a 100-round drum magazine and an automatic weapon to do it,” said Krekorian, who championed the ban at a rally Tuesday outside City Hall. But if someone wanted to do harm, Krekorian added, “imagine what a gunman on this sidewalk could do with that kind of firepower with a crowd like this.”

Los Angeles lawmakers first sought to draft such rules more than two years ago. Survivors of gun violence lamented that it had taken so long for the council to press forward with the ban and urged lawmakers to act. Among them were Ruett and Rhonda Foster, whose 7-year-old son, Evan, was killed 18 years ago when a gunman fired scores of bullets at a local park, peppering their car with more than a dozen shots.

If their attacker could not fire so many bullets before reloading, “Evan might still be here today,” Ruett Foster told the council on Tuesday.

Naturally the gun lobby objects and threatened to sue over the law. They don’t like the laws on the books when they are not the laws they didn’t get to write and therefore influence the decisions made by the lawmakers. But in California, the gun lobby doesn’t have the influence it has in other states. More from the article:

The Los Angeles ordinance is modeled on rules adopted in San Francisco and Sunnyvale that have so far survived legal challenges. Leftwich, from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, assured the council it was on “firm legal ground.” But Barvir, whose firm represents gun rights groups, said the legal battles are not over and clients are considering litigation over the L.A. rules.

Another article from The Trace wrote about why California is so successful at getting common sense gun laws passed. From the article:

California has long been proactive — or, perhaps more accurately, swiftly reactive — in its responses to headline-generating acts of gun violence. “Our Sandy Hook event, if you will, was the Stockton School Yard shooting in 1989,” says Amanda Wilcox, legislation and policy chair for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence’s California chapters. The shooting, which left five dead at an elementary school, spurred a host of legislative activity, according to Wilcox. Today, the state has universal background checks for all gun purchases (including those at gun shows), a 10-day waiting period for purchases, and an assault weapons ban.

The Golden State has a great deal of leeway to pursue stricter policies, in part because gun-rights organizations like the NRA struggle to project power on the West Coast. Democratic majorities dominate legislatures at the state and local levels, and even California-based gun-rights advocacy groups have difficulty passing legislation. “In California, [gun rights groups] aren’t able to move their own bills,” says Wilcox. Meanwhile, the state is home to a number of large urban centers, which generally favor tighter gun restrictions. “It’s demographics,” says Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California Los Angeles. “There’s political leanings, concerns about crime in urban areas, and issues related to very high support for gun control among minority communities.”

These are issues in other states as well but consider the political atmosphere in California- a blue state where we already see that Democrats in general are more supportive of stronger gun laws than Republicans who dominate the politics in red states. It’s no coincidence that California’s rate of gun deaths is smaller than most other states.

So in the midst of a spike of mass shootings and shootings on the increase, we can look to some of this good news and know that resistance to passing common sense gun laws is misguided. We can look to the models of what some cities and states are doing and use those models for passing laws all over the country that will make a difference in saving lives.

This is not gun rights versus gun safety reform. It’s life versus death. It’s reason versus fear and paranoia. It’s fact based decision making and it’s what the majority wants. So let’s get to work and make it happen all over America.

11 thoughts on “Good news about gun reform and gun policy

  1. Guy says:

    Background checks might have passed with support in deep blue states (and only pass there by ~60% voter approval), but nationwide application will likely have limited success. Voter may appreciate the concept, but when the finer points (and the fact that the laws are borderline unenforceable) are brought to light support will decline to diehard voters.

    1. The laws are quite enforceable. They are in place now in 18 states. Voters have supported the laws at about the 80%-90% rate for many years now and has not declined much at all.

  2. Guy says:

    Polled voters have 80-90% support, where as actual voters have only shown a recent ~60% support (in deep-blue Washington at that).

    http://ballotpedia.org/Washington_Universal_Background_Checks_for_Gun_Purchases,_Initiative_594_(2014)

    And even the sheriffs are expressing the true nature of enforcing UBCs:
    http://registerguard.com/rg/news/local/33386692-75/oregon-gun-sale-background-checks-law-gets-off-to-rough-start.html.csp
    They will be purely punitive rather than preventative.

    1. The law passed and is now the law of the state of Washington. Sheriffs not enforcing the laws on the book is grand standing and won’t work. In fact, it’s a disgusting display of narcissism and anti government nonsense.

  3. As time passes folks in Washington State will get on board with the background check law. I’m sure most are already. I’ve bought guns from FFLs and can say there’s no pain and only minuscule inconvenience with the check they do – too bad it doesn’t use a more thorough data base. Time will also quell fears that background checks are the first step to gun confiscation, which presently is still a big concern for many.

    1. Yes. As has been the case for Brady background checks for the last 20 years. No confiscation or registration. Millions of people go through the process because it is the law and only a minor inconvenience like many other things in our daily lives.

  4. J. Edwards says:

    Howdy all, I’m skeptical about the enforce-ability of background checks on private sales. If somebody does not pay a FFL to perform a background check, how would the authorities know? Also if you hold a CCW, you do not have to have a background check performed, (at least in my state).

    1. Here is how Washington state’s new law works. http://wagunresponsibility.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/6.14.14-FINAL-Law-Enforcement-FAQ.pdf
      There will be penalties. Eventually people will comply as they do in the other states where the system is in place. This is not difficult. Like any other law, people will resist it at first or think it doesn’t apply to them. And yes, in most states having a permit to carry can be used to purchase a gun from a licensed dealer. Unlicensed, or private sellers, don’t have to ask for any ID of any kind and some don’t even ask for a driver’s license. ( as shown on hidden camera videos)

  5. J. Edwards, You do bring up a concern for someone, like myself, who believes in uniform background checks. But compliance with them should be pretty good as time passes given that most people want to follow the law (or, at least, are afraid of the consequences if they are caught not following it). As an example, game laws are followed most of the time even though enforcement is very minimal. And with background checks on gun sales people realize it’s not just about being over a bag limit, or taking a shot before/after legal shooting light – it’s something that can lead to tragic consequences if a gun they sell ends up in a violent crime. So I’d bet they’d be more careful if the law required them to be.
    (If there was tracking data associated with all gun transfers, a gun used in a crime could be tracked from the point it’s confiscated to the last legal owner. But since many folks are afraid of any scheme that looks like gun registration, tracking data is not something of which I’m in favor.)

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