The future looks bright for gun violence prevention. Gun safety advocates propelled their champions to victory in November’s midterm election, defeating dozens of National Rifle Association (NRA)-endorsed candidates. The people’s voices were heard. As a result, the incoming Congress has a record number of leaders who are willing to stand up to the NRA and vote in favor of stronger gun laws — especially in the House of Representatives.
With such energy and momentum — and so much to do — it can be difficult to prioritize. As the 116th Congress begins to consider which gun violence prevention bills to pursue, here is where they should start:
Universal background checks
It has been a quarter of a century since President Clinton signed the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act into law. It is time to update this legislation so that background checks are completed for all gun sales as the bill originally intended. As the American public has witnessed unrelenting carnage — including a staggering number of gun deaths and injuries in communities of color — they have demanded that their elected officials take meaningful action to reduce American gun violence. This starts with requiring a background check on every gun sale in America — including private and online sales.
Nearly every poll taken in the last five years has shown more than 92 percent of Americans support universal background checks, but previous Congresses have ignored the pleas of the American public. That changes in January. Soon-to-be Speaker Pelosi has made it clear that gun violence prevention will be of the highest priority in the 116th Congress. That begins with passing a strong, comprehensive universal background checks bill out of the House of Representatives in the first days of this new Congress.
Extreme risk laws
After the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School earlier this year, we have seen eight states pass new extreme risk laws, five of which were signed by Republican
governors.This brings the total number of states that have these laws to 13.
Extreme risk laws allow family members and/or law enforcement officials to petition a judge to temporarily remove firearms from an individual in crisis. Using evidence-based criteria for dangerousness, extreme risk laws are able to identify individuals at a heightened risk of violence without unfairly stigmatizing those living with mental illness.
Though much of the momentum regarding these laws is happening at the state level, it is imperative that Congress pass a bipartisan bill to create incentive for more states to pass extreme risk laws. Additionally, making funding available for implementation at the state level is critical. The recent shooting in Thousand Oaks, California demonstrates the importance of fully implementing extreme risk laws and training citizens and law enforcement to use them.
Assault weapons ban
AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifles have become the favorite gun of American mass shooters. These weapons were made to do one thing: kill as many people as quickly as possible. In the 14 years since the federal assault weapons ban expired, we have seen mass shootings become more frequent and far more lethal.
It is time for Congress to revisit a federal ban on semi-automatic assault rifles like the AR-15. They should also take action to regulate these weapons the same way we regulate fully automatic weapons and other class 3 weapons. Congress should also take action to regulate high capacity magazines and accessories that are designed to increase lethality. By regulating assault weapons, high capacity magazines and accessories like bump stocks, Congress can take significant action that will save American lives.
It is time for Congress to better protect survivors of domestic violence. Our elected leaders can do this by supporting firearm prohibition for those subject to temporary restraining orders. Additionally, Congress can expand the definition of “intimate partner” to include dating partners and support a firearm prohibition for those convicted of misdemeanor stalking. Congress can also provide grants to states that enact laws to remove guns from people already convicted of domestic abuse. Taken together, these changes would strengthen protections for those experiencing domestic violence. No one should have to live in fear and Congress can take steps to disarm abusers.
Funding for gun violence prevention
If Congress is going to make gun violence prevention a priority, legislators need to fund the field appropriately. Specifically, Congress must appropriate funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to research gun violence. For years, Congress has refused to invest in federal research into our nation’s gun violence epidemic. That can change with this Congress; it is time for the CDC to have the resources it needs to research this public health crisis.
In addition to funding gun violence research, the 116th Congress needs to fund intervention programs and invest in community-level gun violence prevention programs to help address the day-to-day gun violence that rarely makes headlines. Hospital intervention, Group Violence Interruption and other programs are emerging as effective avenues to reduce violence in the very communities where carnage has become commonplace. By investing in these programs, our leaders will be investing in the safety of communities disproportionately impacted by gun violence.
With the 116th Congress, we have an opportunity to create change and save lives. Universal background checks, extreme risk laws, an assault weapons ban, protections for those experiencing domestic violence and funding for gun violence prevention are of the utmost importance.
The American people are tired of everyday gun violence and we are ready to see these — and other — significant reforms. Gun violence prevention voters have long said that if Congress refuses to change our gun laws, then we will change our Congress. Voters did their part in November. Now it is time for our champions to do theirs.
Josh Horwitz is the executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.