Five years after Sandy Hook, here are some actions legislators can take on guns

Five years after Sandy Hook, here are some actions legislators can take on guns
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Today marks the fifth anniversary of the horrific massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, during which a gunman with an assault rifle killed six educators and 20 young children.

Today, we grieve with the families whose loved ones were killed in this senseless, cruel act of gun violence. And we vow to continue to honor the victims of Sandy Hook with action.

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In the five years since that tragic day, the gun violence prevention movement has been working tirelessly to do just that. We have created a cultural and political shift in which legislators are increasingly willing to stand up for gun violence prevention.

 

We have cultivated and led a grassroots movement for change. On top of that, we have achieved numerous legislative victories at the state level — a number of states have closed background check loopholes, removed guns from domestic abusers, limited access to weapons of war, and adopted policies to temporarily remove firearms from people exhibiting dangerous behavior.

We are proud of our progress. But we still have much work ahead. In 2017, approximately 38,000 Americans died from gun violence. We witnessed the deadliest mass shooting in American history. We read about countless victims of domestic violence killed by abusers with guns. And tens of thousands of families mourned the death of loved ones who died by firearm suicide.

Clearly, we have a lot to do. Specifically, our state and federal legislators have a lot to do. Luckily for them, there are evidence-based policies that can prevent gun violence, and we know what they are. Five years after Sandy Hook, legislators should take the following actions to save lives in 2018 and beyond:

  1. Address the day-to-day shootings in communities most impacted by gun violence.

Communities disproportionately impacted by gun violence — specifically communities of color — have historically been ignored or discounted in the statewide policy making process. And they suffer as a result. In 2015, nearly 60 percent of all gun homicide victims were African-American.

The gun lobby and some of their allies in Congress have routinely dismissed these lives — they use the blatantly racist concept of “black-on-black crime” in the “inner cities” to characterize African Americans as violent.

It is true that communities of color often face unique challenges:  A long history of discrimination, displacement due to gentrification, disproportionate poverty rates, lack of access to health care, underserved schools with high teacher turnover rates, and a general lack of resources, but that does not mean that they should be ignored or discounted.

Legislators must reach out to these constituents, hear their concerns, and invest time and effort into connecting with communities, hearing their voices, and acting to address their needs and the deep-seated problems that can lead to gun violence. Most importantly, legislators must fund evidence-based violence prevention programs that have been shown to reduce gun deaths and injuries.

  1. Enact permit-to-purchase policies

Permit-to-purchase policies are an important step towards reducing overall gun violence. Through a permit-to-purchase system, an individual seeking to purchase a gun must first obtain a permit. Acquiring a permit requires the individual to undergo a criminal background check through federal and/or state databases. It also often requires that the individual obtain approval for the permit through law enforcement. In doing so, the individual may be required to take a photo and have their fingerprint recorded.

By requiring thorough screening through the permitting process, sellers can rest assured that buyers have been properly screened and approved. These extra steps have also proven to reduce the illegal trafficking of firearms. By creating standards for transfers and private sales and creating more accountability for gun owners, it is far easier for law enforcement to identify people illegally moving guns through our communities.

Additionally, permit-to-purchase policies allow authorities to track and investigate when an individual is purchasing a suspicious number of guns — a common behavior of recent mass shooters. Permit-to-purchase laws are in place in several states, and research shows that they are effective.

  1. Prohibit those with a history of violent misdemeanors, including hate crimes and domestic violence, from accessing guns

Evidence shows that the greatest predictor of future violence is a past history of violence. State and federal legislators must pass legislation prohibiting all people at an elevated risk of violent behavior from owning or obtaining guns.

Individuals who are convicted of violent misdemeanors — including cruelty to animals, hate crimes, any type of domestic violence, or other violent crimes — should not be allowed to own or purchase firearms. State policymakers must also pass legislation to create and enforce a removal process for firearms that are already in the offender’s possession.

  1. Ban assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and other modifications that make guns more lethal.

The perpetrator of the Sandy Hook massacre used an assault rifle to kill his victims as quickly as possible. This is what these weapons were designed to do — maximize lethality and kill human beings. As a result, these weapons are an obvious choice for mass shooters.

Additionally, high-capacity magazines allow shooters to continue inflicting damage without needing to reload as often. In past shootings, the act of reloading has given victims an opportunity to escape, hide, or fight the gunman.

Assault weapons and the high-capacity magazines that accompany them should not be readily available to those who intend to do harm. Instead, state and federal legislators should pass legislation to ban assault rifles, high capacity magazines, and modifications like bump stocks, which make deadly weapons even more dangerous.

  1. Reject the incorrect notion that mental illness is responsible for interpersonal violence and instead, pass policies to prevent firearm suicides.

After each mass shooting, many legislators are quick to blame mental illness for the violence -- often to distract from the real problem: guns. But research shows that mental illness is not a significant risk factor for interpersonal violence, and only four percent of interpersonal violence is attributable to mental illness alone. When legislators perpetuate this myth, it further stigmatizes people living with mental illness and draws attention away from our gun violence epidemic.

Rather than focusing on mental illness and interpersonal violence, legislators should be pursuing policies to prevent suicide — nearly two-thirds of all gun deaths. Access to firearms is associated with increased suicide risk, and data shows that where there are more firearms, there are more suicides.

Suicides can be prevented by removing firearms — the most lethal method of suicide  —  from an individual in suicidal crisis. Policies like voluntary self-prohibition and the Extreme Risk Protection Order — which allows family members and/or law enforcement to petition a judge to remove firearms from a loved one in crisis — can reduce gun suicides

Our movement has made significant progress in state houses and at ballot boxes in the last five years, but we know there are more lives to save and more commonsense policies to enact.

Five years after the Sandy Hook massacre, we challenge state and federal legislators on both sides of the aisle to honor the lives lost by introducing and passing these five policies, among others. The tide is turning. Constituents are demanding change. As 2018 approaches, legislators must resolve to take action.

Josh Horwitz is the executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.