September 19, 2019

Reducing Gun Violence

Is there legislative hope on the horizon?

More and more people are describing gun violence in the United States as an epidemic and a public health crisis. A report released on September 18th by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee shows that almost 40,000 people were killed by a gun in 2017, 60% of whom died by suicide and 36% by firearm homicide. About 2,500 of these deaths involved school-age children. In addition to this staggering death toll, the report estimates the substantial economic cost of gun violence at $229 billion a year nationally, and compiles state-by-state cost estimates of the impact on health care, law enforcement efforts, employers, and family income and spending.

But what actions are being taken to reduce the gun violence epidemic?

Members of both parties in the 116th Congress continue to express strong legislative interest in reducing gun violence and congressional leaders recognize the need to act. However, there is still no bipartisan consensus on what that action should be or indication of what the President will support.

Since returning from August recess, Democratic leaders renewed their demands that the Senate consider the two background check expansion bills that passed the House with bipartisan support in February 2019. The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 (H.R. 8) would extend the requirement of a background check on the sale of all firearms to unlicensed sellers. The Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019 (H.R. 1112) 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.

Early in August, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated that an assault weapons ban or other gun controls “would certainly be one of the front and center issues” when the Senate returned. Since then, speculation about what bills might be acceptable to the White House have included background checks and red flag laws (sometimes called extreme risk protection orders) to allow courts to take away firearms from suspected dangerous people after receiving warnings from police officers or family members. Senator McConnell is still waiting for guidance from the White House on what might be acceptable. “If and when that happens, then we'll have a real possibility of actually changing the law and hopefully making some progress.”

On September 18, Attorney General Barr reportedly circulated a proposal to senators for expanding unlicensed commercial sale background checks for gun purchases, including at gun shows, but lawmakers still don’t know where the President stands on the issue. This draft proposal would expand the current background check system, but does not go nearly as far as the House bills would.

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. This November, the ABA Standing Committee on Gun Violence, along with a number of other ABA entities, will be convening a summit to build consensus across professional communities on ways to reduce gun violence and to create practical tools and templates to be used at the state and local levels to effect change in their communities. Invitees will include members of the medical community, law enforcement, social workers, and other related stakeholders.

Need more information? Visit the Standing Committee on Gun Violence website here or follow us on Twitter @ABAGrassroots to watch for further developments.