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About the Violence Policy Center

Each year, more than 30,000 Americans die in gun suicides, homicides, and unintentional shootings as a result of the ready availability, and accessibility, of specific classes of firearms. Gun violence is more than a crime issue; it is a broad-based public health crisis of which crime is merely the most recognized aspect.

The Violence Policy Center (VPC), a national tax-exempt 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Washington, DC, works to stop this annual toll of death and injury through research, advocacy, education, and collaboration. Firearms are the only consumer product not regulated by a federal agency for health and safety. This unique exemption has been exploited by the gun industry as it has moved to embrace increased lethality as the foundation of its design, manufacturing, and marketing efforts in the wake of the long-term decline in household gun ownership. The VPC believes that the answer to reducing gun violence lies in applying the decades-long lessons of consumer product safety regulation and injury prevention to the gun industry and its products. This approach is detailed in our landmark 1994 publication Cease Fire: A Comprehensive Strategy to Reduce Firearms Violence.

The VPC has a long and proven record of policy successes on the federal, state, and local levels, leading the National Rifle Association to acknowledge us as "the most effective...anti-gun rabble rouser in Washington."

Public policy advances that have emerged as the result of the work of the Violence Policy Center include:

  • In 1992 the VPC released More Gun Dealers Than Gas Stations, a study of abuses by Federal Firearms License (FFL) holders. The study revealed that 80 percent of FFL holders did not operate storefront businesses, but sold guns from houses and offices. Many of the study's recommendations were adopted by the Clinton Administration and Congress at the federal level and by many states and municipalities, resulting in a dramatic reduction in the number of gun dealers—from more than 250,000 in 1992 to less than 55,000 today.

  • In 1993 the VPC released Putting Guns Back into Criminals' Hands, which exposed a four-million-dollar-a-year federal program that helped rearm thousands of convicted, often violent, felons at taxpayer expense. As a result of the study the program was defunded and remains defunded to this day.

  • In 1994 the VPC released its groundbreaking study Cease Fire: A Comprehensive Strategy to Reduce Firearms Violence. Cease Fire introduced a comprehensive, effective approach to regulating firearms in a manner similar to that currently applied to other inherently dangerous consumer products. This product safety approach has been implemented in both Massachusetts and California.

  • In 1995, following the Oklahoma City bombing, the VPC focused public and press attention on the anti-government efforts of the National Rifle Association—including the now-infamous "jack-booted government thugs" direct-mail letter. The widespread press coverage the VPC focused on the extremist rhetoric and agenda of the NRA helped stop the organization’s efforts to repeal the 1994 federal assault weapons ban.

  • In 1996 the VPC released Gun Shows in America: Tupperware® Parties for Criminals, the first study to identify the myriad of problems associated with gun shows. Following the 1999 Columbine massacre, the VPC helped draft legislation that became the centerpiece of Congressional debate on efforts to close what has now become known as the "gun show loophole."

  • In 1996 the VPC was the lead group in building a coalition of more than 35 domestic violence, women's advocacy, religious, and health policy organizations in support of the "Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban." The law expands the list of persons prohibited from possessing firearms to include those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses. To educate the public and policymakers about the unique role firearms play in domestic violence, each year the VPC releases When Men Murder Women, which details state-by-state the circumstances of all reported homicides of women by men in single victim-single offender incidents. Released during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the studies are used by state and local activists to educate the public on the realities of domestic violence, as well as effective solutions to protect women and children from batterers.

  • In 1997 the VPC released Joe Camel with Feathers: How the NRA with Gun and Tobacco Industry Dollars Uses its Eddie Eagle Program to Market Guns to Kids. This VPC report documents the NRA's aggressive marketing to youth, which follows a trail blazed by the tobacco industry. The study is one of numerous VPC reports focusing on the marketing of guns to children by the gun lobby and the firearms industry, as well as the effects of gun violence on children and youth.

  • In 1999 The New Press published the VPC's first book, Making a Killing: The Business of Guns in America. Making A Killing is a first-of-its-kind exposé, revealing how the firearms industry has used increased lethality in an attempt to resuscitate stagnant gun markets.

  • In 2001 the VPC released Poisonous Pastime, a first-time look at the lead threat posed to children and the environment by indoor and outdoor shooting ranges.

  • In 2001 the VPC released Voting from the Rooftops: How the Gun Industry Armed Osama bin Laden, Other Foreign and Domestic Terrorists, and Common Criminals With 50 Caliber Sniper Rifles. The study documented for the first time the burgeoning sales of 50 caliber sniper rifles—military bred weapons that can down helicopters and penetrate armor plating, yet are easier to purchase than a standard handgun. In a New York Times exclusive, the VPC study revealed that the Al Qaeda network had purchased at least 25 of the weapons in the United States. Since then, the VPC has continued its focus on the unique public safety and national security threats posed by 50 caliber sniper rifles as detailed in our studies on the topic, including: Sitting Ducks: The Threat to the Chemical and Refinery Industry From 50 Caliber Sniper Rifles; "Just Like Bird Hunting"— The Threat to Civil Aviation From 50 Caliber Sniper Rifles; and, Clear and Present Danger: National Security Experts Warn About the Danger of Unrestricted Sales of 50 Caliber Anti-Armor Sniper Rifles to Civilians.

  • In 2001 The New Press published the VPC's second book, Every Handgun is Aimed at You: The Case for Banning Handguns. The first-of-its-kind book details the unique price Americans pay for easy handgun availability and was a key tool used by both Washington, DC, and Chicago, IL, in the legal defense of their handgun bans.

  • In 2002 a new law was implemented in California requiring that all new handguns sold in the state include child safety devices that meet minimum safety standards. The VPC worked closely with California advocates to pass and implement this first-in-the-nation law which ensured that child safety devices would be effective in protecting children from unintentional gunshot wounds.

  • In 2003 the VPC released "Officer Down"—Assault Weapons and the War on Law Enforcement, which analyzed FBI data revealing that one in five law enforcement officers slain in the line of duty was killed with an assault weapon. The study was widely cited by the news media and was a key tool for advocates working to renew and improve the federal assault weapons ban. Advocates in Columbus, Ohio, used the study to help secure passage of a citywide assault weapons ban in 2005.

  • In 2005, as the result of the VPC's work revealing the threat posed by 50 caliber sniper rifles, California became the first state in the nation to ban these military weapons. That same year, the VPC's work detailing the threat of 50 calibers was featured on 60 Minutes, Dateline NBC, and other leading news magazine shows.

  • In 2006, as the result of the findings of the 2004 Violence Policy Center study Vest Buster: The .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum—The Gun Industry's Latest Challenge to Law Enforcement Body Armor, which warned of the threat posed to law enforcement officers by the .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum handgun round, a new bullet-resistant vest capable of defeating the .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum round was developed to protect law enforcement. The vest has been certified by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) as meeting its Level IIIA soft body armor standards.

  • In 2007 the VPC released the first edition of Black Homicide Victimization in the United States, which analyzes black homicide victimization rates in the 50 states, illustrating the disproportionate effect gun homicide has on blacks in the United States. Now an annual report, the publication is a key public education and policy tool for local community organizations and policymakers.

  • In 2008 the VPC released American Roulette: Murder-Suicide in the United States. The third edition of a VPC study first issued in 2002, the publication remains the largest survey of murder-suicide in the United States ever conducted. The study reveals that more than 10 murder-suicides occur in the United States each week and is used by policymakers, professionals, and the news media across the nation.

  • In 2009 the VPC released Law Enforcement and Private Citizens Killed by Concealed Handgun Permit Holders, which for the first time tallied non-self defense killings by concealed handgun permit holders. Released during Congressional debate over legislation that would have created a de facto national concealed carry system, its findings were repeatedly cited by bill opponents and on newspaper editorial pages in a successful effort to defeat the measure. That same year, the VPC launched its Concealed Carry Killers on-line resource, which continues to tally non-self defense killings involving persons legally allowed to carry concealed handguns and is updated monthly. The findings of Concealed Carry Killers have been used by gun violence prevention advocates across the nation to help stop efforts to enact or expand lax concealed weapons laws.

  • In 2009 the VPC released two studies—Iron River: Gun Violence and Illegal Firearms Trafficking on the U.S.-Mexico Border and Indicted: Types of Firearms and Methods of Gun Trafficking from the United States to Mexico as Revealed in U.S. Court Documents—focusing on the role played by America’s lax gun laws and the easy availability of military-style weaponry on the U.S. civilian gun market in helping feed cartel violence in Mexico.

  • In 2010 the VPC released Drive-By America, the only state-by-state national analysis of drive-by shootings, their circumstances, and their victims.

  • In 2011 the VPC released A Shrinking Minority: The Continuing Decline of Gun Ownership in America, which analyzes independent General Social Survey data to reveal that household gun ownership is at its lowest level since the 1970s. The analysis reveals that less than a third of American households have a gun and that contrary to assertions by the gun lobby and gun industry that female personal gun ownership has increased, gun ownership by women remains relatively rare and unchanged.

  • In 2011 the VPC released Blood Money: How the Gun Industry Bankrolls the NRA which for the first time details how the National Rifle Association receives millions of dollars from the gun industry through an organized “Corporate Partners” program, ending once and for all the NRA’s false claim—stated on its website—that it “is not affiliated with any firearm or ammunition manufacturers or with any businesses that deal in guns and ammunition.”

  • In 2011 the VPC released Lost Youth: A County-by-County Analysis of 2009 California Homicide Victims Ages 10 to 24 which uses the most recent data available to rank California counties by their homicide rates for youth and young adults. By comparing county by county the homicide rates for youth and young adults, the study shows the continuing, urgent need for tailored, localized approaches to reducing youth homicide that integrate prevention and intervention while engaging local leaders and community stakeholders.

The Violence Policy Center also regularly submits and joins amicus curiae briefs in a variety of state and federal cases impacting gun laws. Most recently, the VPC joined with other gun violence prevention advocates in the successful defense of a California county ordinance that bans gun shows on county property.

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