May 15, 2019

Reducing Firearm Injuries and Deaths: Historic Summit and Legislative Update

The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Gun Violence recently participated in the first-ever medical summit on firearm injury prevention hosted by the American College of Surgeons (ACS).

Forty-two nationally prominent medical and public health professional organizations, plus representatives from the ABA Standing Committee, met to identify opportunities to work together to address the growing problem of firearm injury and death in the United States. After the summit, the medical community issued a series of consensus statements that acknowledge firearm injury is a public health crisis and identify research, funding, education, and community engagement as critical to injury prevention.

For over 25 years, the ABA has strongly supported a national approach to preventing and reducing gun violence, with a focus on evidence-informed, constitutionally sound policy, education, and advocacy. The ABA has collaborated with many Summit participants in the past, even issuing a joint statement with them in 2015 that advocates measures aimed at reducing the public health consequences of gun violence. Specific recommendations included conducting universal background checks, restricting the manufacture and sale of military assault-style weapons and large capacity magazines for civilian use, and supporting research to identify strategies to reduce firearm-related injuries and deaths.

Both parties in the 116th Congress have expressed strong legislative interest in reducing gun violence, albeit in very different ways. While dozens of gun-related bills have been introduced, key congressional proposals focus on concealed carry permits, protection orders, background checks, and ghost guns. No bills however have broad bipartisan support yet. 

Republican lawmakers have cosponsored Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act bills in both the House and the Senate (H.R. 38 and S. 69) to allow qualified individuals with concealed carry permits in one state to enter another concealed carry state with their firearm. Only two Democrats support the bill in the House and none in the Senate, with no further action yet taken on either bill. Last month, the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee even held a hearing on gun control focused on the use of “red flag” laws (also known as gun violence protection orders) by many states to allow courts to take away firearms from suspected dangerous people after receiving warnings from police officers or family members. Two Senate bills involving protection orders have been introduced so far, but no action has been taken on either bill (S. 7, with one Republican, one Democrat, and one Independent cosponsor; S. 506, with 23 Democratic and two Independent cosponsors).

Democratic lawmakers have focused their efforts on cosponsoring background check expansion bills in both the House and the Senate, with the House holding a hearing on one of its bills earlier this year. The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 (H.R. 8) would require a background check on the sale of all firearms, extending the requirement to unlicensed sellers. H.R. 8 passed the House in February by a vote of 240 to 190, with eight Republicans voting in favor of the bill. The Senate version of the bill (S. 42) has 40 Democratic, one Independent, and no Republican cosponsors and has not moved since introduction and referral to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The House also passed the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019 (H.R. 1112) in February, which would extend the initial background check review period for the sale of a firearm from three to ten days, thereby closing the loophole in the current law that allows a gun to be sold if a background check is not completed within three days. Only three Republicans voted in favor of this bill. Democrats then introduced a series of bills trying to control access to guns that are not detectable by a walk-through metal detector (“ghost guns”) (H.R. 869, prohibiting possession of undetectable firearms; S. 459, stopping overseas trafficking of ghost guns; and H.R. 1134, maintaining State Department control of firearm exports).  There is no Republican support for any of these bills.

Need more information?  Visit the Standing Committee on Gun Violence website at www.americanbar.org/groups/committees/gun_violence or follow us on Twitter @ABAGrassroots to watch for further developments.