Over the past two weeks the nation has experienced appalling acts of gun violence – nineteen elementary school children and two teachers murdered in their classroom in Uvalde, Texas and 10 more killed at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, to say nothing of the hundreds of others that didn’t make the headlines. Even as we grieve across the country, officials on the federal, state, and local level must act – to help heal their communities, and to build a policy infrastructure that will finally protect the public from all forms of gun violence. Our legislatures have an imperative to pass new laws – especially in the many states with shockingly weak systems – but there’s also room for governors to lead. This document lays out a suite of actions that executives can take now, focused on preventing firearm access for people who pose a danger to themselves or others, interrupting violence in the hardest-hit communities, and confronting the gun industry head-on.
Every chief executive can make a commitment to gun safety by creating or expanding a state Office of Violence Prevention, which can serve as a command center for analyzing and combating gun violence statewide – helping local officials with gun safety initiatives, coordinating action with other state actors, and recommending new legislation where needed. This office can be a leader in managing a range of implementation programs, taking responsibility for many of the policies listed below.
The actions include:
Blocking gun access for people who pose a danger
- Governors can launch an education strategy and a government task force to increase the use of extreme risk orders.
- Chief executives can help remove illegal guns promptly with a statewide program to identify prohibited gun owners and ensure they are disarmed.
- States can distribute public materials through the schools and other channels to educate gun owners on the dangers of unsecured guns at home and in vehicles.
Uplifting community violence intervention
- Governors can bolster street outreach and other community-led programs with a coordinated effort to secure funding and serve as a convener, capacity builder, and advocate for this work at the forefront of the gun safety movement.
Holding the gun industry accountable
- Chief executives can raise the bar for irresponsible gun dealers, maximizing the work of licensing authorities to hold bad actors to account.
- States can publicly disclose the manufacturers and retailers of guns used in shootings, to put industry actors on notice that their guns are being used in crimes and inform the public on who is profiting off of our gun violence epidemic.
- States can create crime gun data intelligence tools that empower them to intercept traffickers and interrupt the flow of guns into our communities.
- Governors can pressure gun manufacturers to childproof their guns, using consumer product safety authority to demand better firearm technology.
Blocking Gun Access for People Who Pose a Danger
Increasing Use of Extreme Risk Orders
- Nineteen states have Extreme Risk laws, lifesaving policies that empower people to seek a court order blocking gun access for people in crisis. But these laws only work if people who see dangerous warning signs know about the process and how to use it. We also need law enforcement, judges, and other state agencies to understand their roles and draw out useful information for judges. While these policies undoubtedly save lives each day in America, their overall uptake has been mixed – and governors can help to expand the use dramatically.
- Governors should launch a statewide strategy to educate the public about what behavior suggests a person may harm themselves or others – and how people can use Extreme Risk laws to remove guns from those dangerous situations. These tools should also help people in crisis access substance use and behavioral health resources.
- Executives should also establish a statewide task force to educate state agencies–from police to departments of education to behavioral health officials–on how the process works and establish protocols for identifying these cases and intervening quickly. Following the lead of New York Governor Kathy Hochul after the May 14 shooting in Buffalo, states should focus on domestic terrorism and armed extremism, working with federal officials to identify and disarm threats. States can consider a tip line for reporting concerning behavior.
- Governors should find new funding to support this work, both to support a statewide task force and encourage local officials to establish their own dedicated Extreme Risk teams that work in partnership with communities and state officials.
Removing Illegal Guns Promptly
- Twenty-three states require prompt firearm surrender for domestic abusers who become prohibited after a conviction or restraining order. But in many states, enforcement is insufficient – leaving illegal guns in the possession of abusers who pose a threat. Governors can ensure this critical work is done consistently on the ground by providing new funding and working with courts and law enforcement to build clear processes and track removal consistently.
- Governors should launch a comprehensive removal program – with a real-time notification system for gun owners who become prohibited and a practice of disarming those individuals immediately. States that keep databases of gun purchases can use new felony convictions and other prohibitions to identify illegal guns across the state, following the lead of California’s program, which has removed nearly 11,000 illegal guns over the past five years. Other states can build a robust program that covers illegal guns possessed by concealed carry permit holders.
- This life-saving work is most effective when it is well-resourced, and governors should provide expansive funding to ensure illegal guns are taken out of our communities.
Statewide Education on Secure Storage of Firearms
- An estimated 4.6 million children in the US live in households with at least one loaded, unlocked firearm, and there is strong evidence that in school gun violence incidents, shooters are exploiting unsecured and easily accessible firearms. School districts across the country, including in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Denver, and Fairfax, Virginia have taken the lead in educating parents on the importance of secure gun storage, using materials such as the Be SMART program.
- Governors should spearhead a public education campaign to educate gun owners on the dangers of unsecured firearms in the home and in vehicles, how to store guns securely and, if applicable, the legal obligations of gun owners in their state. A key component of this campaign should include working with the state board of education to distribute public education materials to parents of students regarding the dangers of unsecured firearms in the home.
Uplifting Community Violence Intervention
Focusing on Street Outreach and Other Community-Led Programs
- Gun violence has an outsized impact in historically underfunded neighborhoods in America’s cities – with half of all 2015 gun homicides happening in just 127 cities. Communities hardest hit by gun violence also face deep-seated systemic and structural inequities. Violence intervention strategies – including street outreach, group violence intervention, and hospital-based interventions– are a core piece of the solution, helping to break the cycle of violence.
- Attention and funding for these community-based strategies have spiked in recent years, with new federal funding, state allocations, and private investment. This is the moment for governors to support and uplift this burgeoning and vital piece of the gun safety puzzle.
- President Biden has made investing in community violence intervention programs a central plank of his administration’s strategy to reduce gun violence, with multiple guidances that explicitly authorize the use of state and local American Rescue Plan funds to support these programs.
- Governors can launch an effort to help coordinate this life-saving work, with a focus on: securing maximum resources, to ensure funding is available and sustained; help build the case publicly for the impact of these programs by funding sophisticated evaluations; publishing best practices and building knowledge to serve as a technical assistance and capacity building provider (or connector to outside experts); and convening stakeholders and serving as a public advocate for these mission-critical gun safety solutions, especially in towns and cities that are slow to appreciate and adopt them.
Holding the Gun Industry Accountable
Improving Oversight of Gun Dealers
- Even as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has been hamstrung by gun-lobby backed restrictions that make it nearly impossible to hold firearm dealers to account, fifteen states have created their own gun dealer licensing systems– raising the bar for responsible practices by retailers. Governors in those states should leverage those programs now and look to improve them.
- Executives can launch a review of their systems, identifying gaps broadly and assessing what new authority should be granted to build upon ATF’s regulatory efforts (e.g., giving local law enforcement their own inspection authority, expanding licensing to reach long gun dealers, maintaining a public registry of dealers). States should publish regular reports on this work, both to promote public awareness of what a strong system looks like and also to expose bad actors. Governors can maximize their efforts by directing regulators (or as appropriate asking state attorneys general) to pass new rules around “unfair and deceptive practices” – clarifying, as Massachusetts has done, that the state has broad power over dealers.
Pursuing Traffickers and Their Enablers
- Gun trafficking threatens public safety even in states with the strongest firearm laws, as guns flow in from states with weaker laws. Governors can stand against traffickers who funnel guns into our communities by building a data intelligence tool that identifies illegal guns and their sources – following the lead of states like New York and cities like Baltimore. These tools provide a real-time view of crime gun data, and can help expand investigations and break up trafficking rings. Officials should also commit to publishing information about dealers and other industry actors who fuel these networks.
Putting Pressure on Gunmakers
- From the outset of federal consumer protection law, the gun lobby has maintained a unique exception from oversight of its products. And even with a vast crisis in unintentional shootings – as of May 27, there have been 106 unintentional shootings by children in 2022 – gunmakers have vigorously refused to prevent tragedies by building safety features into firearm technology.
- Three states have made their own consumer product safety laws, requiring manufacturers to add childproofing features to any new handgun models that are sold into their states. Governors can explore adding similar mandates by executive authority, in states with robust consumer product powers – following the lead of Massachusetts. Working with state attorneys general, governors can also assess opportunities to take manufacturers to court where their products and practices are creating a public nuisance in their states.
- Governors can immediately ensure that the state publicly discloses the manufacturer and retailer of individual guns used in shootings, as well as their model, caliber, serial number, and whether the gun has been modified or defaced. Like with pharmaceutical companies and the opioid epidemic, gun companies have a responsibility to control their distribution chain to ensure that their products are not causing harm to a community. This disclosure puts industry actors on notice that their guns are being used in crimes and informs the public on who is profiting off of our gun violence epidemic.