More than one hundred Americans die from gun violence every day, and twice as many are shot and wounded. Gun violence has shaken the foundation of our society, from highly visible and fear-inducing mass shootings, to the daily toll of gun violence in our cities, to the firearm suicides that happen in the privacy of our homes. America’s gun homicide rate is 26 times higher than in other high-income countries—and our gun violence epidemic is also an economic crisis, costing about $280 billion annually, including $3.5 billion in healthcare costs alone. And the coronavirus pandemic has brought about a collision of two public health crises, with nearly all forms of gun violence increasing.
No elected leader has been a more consistent champion of gun violence prevention than President-elect Joe Biden, and together with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, they mark the strongest gun safety administration in American history. They will enter office in the midst of a global pandemic, an economic downturn, a racial justice reckoning, and a rise in armed extremism—each of which intensifies the nation’s gun violence crisis, and each of which requires smart gun policy solutions.
Americans want swift action on gun violence: Morning Consult’s 2020 exit poll found 70 percent of voters (including 54 percent of Republicans) believe that gun violence is an urgent issue that the federal government needs to address quickly, alongside the economy and the coronavirus pandemic.
A Gun Sense President can make transformational change by using executive power to take common sense and broadly popular action. The NRA has spent decades weakening regulations and intimidating any agency or office that dared even to broach the topic of firearms. White House leadership and a Gun Sense Cabinet can create a mandate for action with an all-hands effort coordinated through an interagency hub or task force that rethinks how each agency has a role to play in protecting the public from gun violence. The President can also declare gun violence to be a public health emergency, opening a broad set of powers to accelerate steps to prevent gun violence. There are 4 core areas where a gun sense President can act:
- Keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them by strengthening the background check system.
- Prioritize solutions to the city gun violence devastating communities every day.
- Heal a traumatized country by making schools safe, confronting armed hate and extremism, preventing suicide, and centering and supporting survivors of gun violence.
- Launch a major firearm data project and protect the public with modern gun technology.
President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris are the leaders that we need to address the plague of gun violence in our country. While congressional action is necessary to fully address this crisis, the new executive branch of the federal government can take swift steps to make meaningful progress.
Here are four areas where the Biden-Harris Administration can use executive power to reduce gun violence
1. Keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them by strengthening the background check system.
While federal legislation requiring completed background checks on all gun sales remains necessary, there are many steps President Biden can independently take to improve the system we have now—a system that has stopped more than 3.5 million illegal sales over the last two decades. This is an especially urgent priority for 2021, as the Trump administration has degraded the system and the coronavirus pandemic has increased the number of illegal purchasers who slip through the cracks. The Biden-Harris administration can 1) shut down the no-questions-asked marketplace for ghost gun parts and kits by directing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to ensure the background check system covers all firearms, including the core parts and kits used to build untraceable ghost guns; 2) address the Charleston loophole, which enables illegal sales to go forward before a check is complete, by requiring all gun dealers to notify the Department of Justice (DOJ) before such a sale, prioritizing completing those background checks, and ensuring no background checks are deleted before completion; 3) take action to stop people who shouldn’t have guns and may be looking to get armed by requiring the FBI to alert state and local law enforcement of all denied background checks in their jurisdiction; 4) ensure the background check system has all of the prohibiting records it needs by having DOJ interpret the law to cover all prohibited purchasers and encouraging states and federal agencies to submit relevant records; and 5)target gaps in the law for proactive enforcement by having DOJ clarify which sellers need to get a dealer license because they are “engaged in the business” and crack down on the online sales market.
2. Prioritize solutions to the city gun violence devastating communities every day.
In a recent year, half of all gun homicides in the U.S. took place in just 127 cities, containing less than a quarter of the country’s population. City gun violence has intensified throughout the coronavirus pandemic, with a spike in homicides and nonfatal shootings—violence often concentrated within underserved neighborhoods and among small social networks. Police shootings, which claim more than 1,000 lives each year, have a uniquely corrosive impact on the nation by dramatically reducing public confidence in police and leading community members to see them as part of the problem. The Biden-Harris administration can support communities in need by 1) providing tens of millions of dollars for evidence-informed community-based violence intervention programs through existing grant programs run by the Office of Justice Programs, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS); 2) pursuing police accountability by reinvigorating DOJ’s Civil Rights Division investigations of pattern and practice violations, setting new accountability conditions on existing grant programs, and providing training and technical assistance on equitable policing and police accountability; 3) stemming the flow of crime guns into cities by reforming how guns are sold by federally licensed gun dealers, including modernizing the regulations and requirements on who can become a gun dealer, stepping up inspections, and holding bad actors accountable; and 4) directing ATF to publish data on the sources of crime guns that can be used to drive better enforcement and policy making.
3. Heal a traumatized country by making schools safe, confronting armed hate and extremism, preventing suicide, and centering and supporting survivors of gun violence.
Gun violence has infected our private and public spaces in ways that have caused long-lasting trauma in American society. High-profile acts of gun violence in schools and heinous hate-motivated acts of armed violence and intimidation have damaged faith that we are safe in our communities. A majority of teens fear a shooting at their school, while violence and intimidation by armed white supremacists is a growing phenomenon across the country. Forty million American adults report that someone they love has attempted or died by firearm suicide, and lack of robust support for gun violence survivors affects tens of millions of Americans. A Biden-Harris administration can drive change by 1) building a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to school safety that includes directing the Department of Education (ED) to promote interventions that prevent student access to firearms; 2) directing DOJ to work with state and local partners to disarm hate-motivated individuals and prosecute armed extremists who violate our civil rights; 3) through HHS, ED, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, launching suicide awareness campaigns addressing access to firearms and promoting secure storage and extreme risk tools that temporarily remove firearms for people in crisis; and 4) providing survivors of gun violence with guidance on existing resources, including access to VOCA victim assistance programs.
4. Launch a major firearm data project and protect the public with modern gun technology.
The gun lobby has gone to great lengths to protect itself from accountability. It has obstructed the federal government from developing and supporting gun violence prevention data and analysis, its traditional and central role in other public health and public safety concerns such as traffic fatalities, tobacco smoking, and childhood lead exposure. And the gun lobby has obstructed advances in firearm technology that can prevent unintentional shootings, suicide, and crime — by blocking the government from regulating guns as it does other household products and providing bad actors in the gun industry with special legal protections. To bring new resources to the brightest scientific minds and invest in modern technology, the Biden-Harris administration can 1) coordinate a cross-departmental data initiative to build a world-class research base that coordinates gun violence research and collects more complete and timely data on gun death and injuries; 2) drive modern technology by setting new Consumer Product Safety Commission standards for gun storage devices and lay the groundwork for smart guns and microstamping by funding and testing prototypes at the National Institute for Justice; and 3) through the Federal Trade Commission, evaluate gun ads for safety claims that are false or misleading.