Gun Violence Is Rising. We Know How to Stop It—So Why Are We Falling Short?
Headline after headline is decrying increasing crime levels in the United States.
But many of these headlines obscure what’s really going on: the rise in crime in our nation’s cities is driven in large part by increases in gun violence.
Some of the media coverage and public discussion about this rise in crime has pointed the blame at last summer’s protests over police violence and racial injustice, suggesting that a subsequent “police pullback” has led to these increases. But this theory, known as the Ferguson theory, has already been debunked. Instead, economic and social instability, generational trauma, high-profile acts of police brutality that diminish community trust in law enforcement, and spikes in gun purchases have likely all contributed to this rapidly worsening crisis.
Also true: we know what solutions will reduce gun violence and save lives. It’s time for our elected officials to step up and do their job of protecting public safety. There are three actions that we can and must take immediately to address this public health epidemic: pass universal background checks, confirm a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco, and Explosives (ATF), and invest in community violence intervention programs.
Pass Universal Background Checks
Many Americans are under the mistaken assumption that background checks are required for all gun sales. It makes sense, after all—why should you be able to purchase a deadly firearm without a seller verifying that you are eligible to possess that firearm?
Matthew Miller, Lisa Hepburn & Deborah Azrael, “Firearm Acquisition Without Background Checks,” Annals of Internal Medicine 166, no. 4 (2017): 233–239.
But the fact is that under federal law, gun sales that take place online, at gun shows, and between private parties don’t require a background check. These deadly loopholes lead to more guns in the hands of people who aren’t legally allowed to own them, and make all of us less safe.
The vast majority of Americans—upwards of 90%—agree that all gun sales should require background checks. This spring, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would do just that, with exceptions for transfers among close family members, as well as for hunting or self-protection when danger is imminent.
It’s time for the Senate to pass this lifesaving legislation. No one gun law will solve all gun violence, but universal background checks are a foundational policy that many other gun safety laws depend on. We can’t turn the corner on our gun violence epidemic and reverse the deadly trend of the past 15 months until we take this critical step.
Confirm an ATF Director
ATF is responsible for investigating and preventing firearm trafficking and other violent crime. In recent years, thanks to the efforts of the NRA and other gun lobby groups, the ATF has been severely under-funded and therefore unable to do its job effectively. The Bureau has also lacked a permanent director for many years, instead going through a series of interim directors due to the Senate’s failure to confirm a director.
The Biden administration is attempting to right this wrong by nominating 25-year ATF veteran David Chipman to helm the agency. David Chipman is a gun owner and a dedicated public servant who has a deep understanding of firearms and firearm safety, and a commitment to balancing commonsense gun safety laws with the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
David Chipman isn’t a controversial choice for ATF director, even though some gun extremists are trying to make him out to be. His job as director will be to enforce the laws on the books and keep our country safe by cracking down on firearm trafficking and bad apple dealers. No responsible gun owner should fear David Chipman’s confirmation. Anyone who wants to see an end to gun violence and a safer country should welcome it.
Fund Community Violence Intervention Programs
As the Community Violence Initiative director at Giffords, my job is to advocate for lifesaving programs proven to reduce violence in our nation’s cities. I’ve worked in the field of community violence intervention for many years. These shootings disproportionately impact young men of color and rarely make the headlines.
Rather than investing in mass incarceration and heavy-handed policing, we should be investing in the communities themselves through solutions like community-based violence intervention programs that empower and deploy homegrown peacemakers who work tirelessly to prevent violence. These efforts have been shown to greatly reduce the likelihood of retaliatory shootings.
President Biden’s initial infrastructure plan included $5 billion in funding for community violence intervention, and the executive actions he announced in April also included funding for community violence intervention, as did the administration’s comprehensive plan to address violent crime announced last month.
Violence intervention programs are essential to stemming the violence that has skyrocketed in recent months. Without adequate funding, intervention workers can’t continue safely and effectively doing their lifesaving work and any progress a city has made is jeopardized. Now’s the time for Congress to follow through and make a meaningful investment in these evidence-based programs.
We are not powerless in the face of gun violence—but solving this crisis will require our leaders committing once and for all to put the safety, health, and wellbeing of all Americans above the interests of gun manufacturers and extremists. I hope you’ll join me in asking them to do this.