An Agenda For Genuine Gun Control
The House of Representatives has begun consideration of new gun control proposals. The Senate has already passed several provisions including: a requirement that all firearm sales at gun shows be subject to the Brady Law's background check requirement; a requirement that all new handguns come equipped with a safety locking device; and restrictions on the import of high-capacity ammunition magazines.
While the Senate-passed measures are important steps forward, they still leave the gun industry itself unchecked. The House now has an opportunity to pursue a more comprehensive and effective gun control agenda�one that can truly work to prevent future tragedies like the April massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. The foundation of meaningful gun control policy is real regulation of the gun industry. Today, firearms are simply exempt from federal health and safety requirements, unlike virtually all other products�from toys to jumbo jets.
In fact, comprehensive legislation to regulate the gun industry has been introduced. The Firearms Safety and Consumer Protection Act (H.R. 920) would subject the gun industry to the same safety standards as virtually all other products sold in America. The bill would vest the Department of the Treasury with strong consumer protection authority to regulate the design, manufacture, and distribution of firearms and ammunition. The agency would be empowered to take the steps necessary to protect the public from unreasonable risk of injury resulting from the use of firearms or firearm products. This legislation would finally end the gun industry's deadly immunity from regulation.
Short of passing a comprehensive proposal, the House should implement a strategy to place limits on the firearms industry, regulate gun sales by unlicenced sellers, and restrict access to firearms by children and teenagers. Toward this goal, the House could immediately pass the following package.
Putting Limits on the Gun Industry
The firearms industry is virtually the last unregulated manufacturer of a consumer product, despite the fact that firearms kill far more Americans every year than all other household and recreational products combined. Lack of regulation has allowed the gun industry to design and market a variety of firearms with no legitimate sporting purpose. Congress should act now to implement meaningful restrictions on what lethal products the gun industry can make and sell.
- Ban the manufacture and sale of "junk" guns. Thirty years ago Congress banned the import of low quality, ultraconcealable "junk" guns. However, the domestic manufacture of these guns has flourished. "Junk" guns routinely top the lists of guns traced to crime. For example, the most recent figures available show that two of the top three crime guns in 1998 were "junk" guns. In addition, the Violence Policy Center analyzed data regarding guns seized from juveniles under the age of 17 between July 1, 1996 and April 30, 1997, as detailed in the Youth Crime Gun Interdiction Initiative. The VPC found that 59 percent of guns traced to juveniles were "junk" guns.
- Plug the loopholes in the assault weapons ban. The gun industry has systematically exploited loopholes in federal bans on the importation, manufacture, and sale of assault weapons and the high-capacity ammunition magazines used in such weapons. Companies continue to manufacture and sell assault weapons with minor cosmetic alterations that allow them to evade the law. In addition, a new wave of imported modified assault weapons is flooding the domestic market. Likewise, ammunition manufacturers stockpiled hundreds of thousands of high-capacity ammunition magazines and such "killer clips" continue to be imported. These loopholes in the bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines must be closed.
- Strictly regulate high-caliber sniper rifles. The newest deadly trend from the gun industry is 50 caliber military sniper rifles. These weapons are designed and manufactured to kill human beings at more than five times the range that hunters shoot deer. They are also designed to destroy targets such as light armored vehicles and aircraft at distances of more than a mile. These military weapons are becoming commonplace in the civilian market. Congress should act quickly to bring them under the controls of the National Firearms Act, the 1934 federal law that currently governs the transfer and possession of ultra-dangerous firearms such as machine guns and sawed-off shotguns.
Regulating Sales in the Secondary Market
Forty percent of all gun transactions in America take place outside of retail outlets. This "secondary" market includes firearm purchases at gun shows, over the Internet, through classified advertisements, and by informal arrangements between acquaintances. Most of these transactions are exempt from the Brady Law's background check requirements and any state-imposed restrictions. Congress should act to ensure that this huge segment of the gun market is subject to background checks that help keep guns out of the hands of criminals, children, and the mentally unstable.
- Regulate all gun sales. The law should require that all firearm transfers be completed by a federally licensed firearms dealer and subject to the federal background check requirement and state regulations. Just as prescription drugs may only be sold by licensed pharmacists, firearms should be sold only by licensed dealers.
- Closely monitor gun shows. In addition to the Senate-passed requirements that all transactions at gun shows be subject to the Brady Law's background check and that gun show promoters register with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), promoters should also be required to notify ATF of the location and date of each gun show that it sponsors. This change will help law enforcement track the more than 4,400 guns shows that take place every year.
- Regulate Internet gun sales. All persons selling guns over the Internet should be obliged to hold federal firearms dealers' licenses. Those who operate Internet websites that offer guns for sale should be required to register the site with ATF. As with gun shows, this simple measure will help law enforcement keep track of the burgeoning sale of guns over the Internet.
Helping to Keep Guns out of the Hands of Children and Teens
In 1995, more than 3,000 juveniles under the age of 18 were killed by firearms. A confusing patchwork of federal laws governs the age for purchase and possession of firearms. Moreover, since the gun industry is exempt from federal health and safety regulation, firearms are not required to incorporate even minimum safety devices to protect children from unintentional firearm injuries. Congress must act to keep guns out of the hands of children and youth.
- Require all handguns to be equipped with child safety devices that meet minimum government safety standards. Many gun locking devices currently on the market are simply inadequate to protect children from the risk of unintentional firearm-related death. Some are made of little more than flimsy plastic. The Senate-passed bill mandates that dealers include the devices with every new handgun sold, but includes no minimum government safety standards. Such quality standards are necessary if child safety devices are to be effective in helping to prevent the unintentional firearm deaths among children. In 1996, 138 children ages 14 and younger died from unintentional gun shot wounds.
- Increase the minimum age for possession of a handgun from 18 to 21. Under current law, it is illegal�with certain exceptions�for juveniles under the age of 18 to possess a handgun. But one must be 21 to legally buy a handgun at a gun store. In other words, an 18-year-old may legally possess a handgun, but may not buy a handgun at a gun store before turning 21. This leaves a dangerous gap for youth between the ages of 18 and 21. And gun tracing statistics show that 19 is the most frequent age of crime gun possession. The second most frequent age is 18.
- Restrict possession of rifles and shotguns by juveniles. Currently, federal law includes absolutely no age restrictions on the possession of rifles and shotguns�including assault weapons�by juveniles, even though juveniles under the age of 18 are prohibited from buying any guns at gun stores. Rifles and shotguns constituted more than 12 percent of crime guns traced to juveniles between August 1, 1997 and July 31, 1998 according to the Department of the Treasury.