Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2024
On May 14, 2022, a gunman opened fire with a legally obtained AR-15-style rifle at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, killing 10 people. Ten days later, an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Shortly thereafter, in Boulder, Colorado, a man used an AR-15 style firearm to kill 10 people in a grocery store. This occurred less than two weeks after a state court blocked the city’s ordinance banning assault weapons. With over 240 mass shootings this past year, gun violence is at its highest point in 20 years. People, especially children need to be protected from these types of crimes, but tighter gun laws may not be the solution. Legislators are starting to see that prevention and intervention programs might be the better solution.
Some states, like California and New Jersey, have already created laws banning certain firearms indicating that their legislators thought tighter gun regulation is the answer. In fact, The Brady Campaign called California’s ban on assault rifles in 1989 the model for the nation. California has kept developing additional legislation restricting gun possession to protect Californians from gun violence. However, this legislation did not eliminate mass shootings in California. Data from the Gun Violence Archive shows that California experiences an average of 44 mass shootings per year which translates to one mass shooting every 8.3 days. While the ban did not eliminate mass shootings, a 2022 study by the Public Policy Institute of California found that Californians are about 25% less likely to die in a mass shooting than citizens of other states.
When the U.S. banned some assault weapons in the Assault Weapon Ban of 1994, this ban helped decrease the number of mass shootings in the United States. During that time, the risk of a person dying in a mass shooting was 70% lower than before the ban. But, not everyone believed this decrease was due to the law. A study led by Christopher S. Koper concluded that the ban’s success in reducing crimes committed with banned guns was mixed. Crimes involving the banned guns declined after the ban was implemented, but other gun crimes rose. Thus, making the ban’s effectiveness unclear and still in debate.
Alternatives to regulating gun use
Others argue that tighter gun regulation is not the answer to combat gun violence, but instead the public health approach is. The public health approach focuses on prevention and addresses the risk factors that lead to gun violence and protective factors that reduce gun violence. Some psychologists believe that the prevention of violence begins in early childhood with programs to help parents raise healthy children and ends with efforts to identify and intervene with troubled individuals who threaten violence. Prevention efforts guided by research on developmental risk can reduce the likelihood that firearms will be introduced into the community.
Five states such as California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, and New York have started to invest in violence intervention and prevention programs. With these state-funded programs, those states have experienced reductions in firearm violence. New York’s neighborhoods with a violence interruption program experienced 18% reductions in homicides from 2010-2013, while other similar neighborhoods without a program experienced a 69% increase during those years. Now more states such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia are starting to invest in these programs.
The current legislation on gun regulation
In June, an emergency committee meeting was called by Chairman Jerry Nadler in response to the mass shootings to help combat gun reform. Democrats proposed a comprehensive package of gun reforms that would restrict the buying, selling, and storing of assault weapons.
Some Republicans have argued that the Democrat’s proposal may be unconstitutional and that the Democrats are ignoring key problems like mental health that contribute to gun violence. Rep. Dan Bishop stated that the courts have made it pretty clear you cannot deprive young adults anymore of the remainder of Americans of their core Second Amendment right to self-defense. However, the Republicans have not come forward with reasonable solutions to defend the second amendment and combat mass shootings.
Recently in June, the House and the Senate approved the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which includes money to help states implement and run crisis intervention programs, and programs for mental health and drug and veteran courts. President Biden has now signed this act into law.
The bill failed to ban any weapons, but it included funding for school safety and state crisis intervention programs. Then, the bill requires more individuals who sell guns as their primary source of income to register as Federally Licensed Firearm Dealers that are required to administer background checks before they sell a gun to someone. Anyone convicted of a domestic violence crime is barred from buying a gun. This law would also allow courts to temporarily seize firearms from anyone believed to be a danger to themselves or others.
I believe this new law will help people have better access to mental health services and decrease the number of mass shootings.