Brady's Legislative Blueprint for a Safer America
The people have spoken. We have a gun violence prevention majority in Congress.
American gun violence is a complex and multifaceted issue that will persist unless our elected leaders take action and embrace targeted solutions that address the root causes of gun violence and its various forms. Through legislative action there is an opportunity to change the trajectory of gun violence in the United States and lay the foundations for lasting positive change.
In order to reduce American gun violence and set the stage for generations of progress, the Brady Blueprint identifies three broad areas of focus.
1. The need for democratic reforms
2. Expand the Brady Background Check System
3. Address gun violence in all of its forms
1. The need for democratic reforms
We cannot adequately address gun violence until we fix unjust democratic systems. Reforms that will prevent statutory stonewalling and special interest influence, are critical to a representative democracy and preventing gun violence.
Level the Playing Field
Special interests have an outsized voice within our democratic system, making it harder for average Americans to be heard. Congress should act quickly on legislation that will reform our electoral processes and ensure that all Americans have an equal voice and an equal vote.
America’s election laws allow groups like the NRA to spend millions on political ads funded by anonymous donors. These dark money rules allowed them to spend over $50 million in 2016 in support of gun industry allies in federal elections.
Two presidents in the last 20 years were elected despite failing to win the popular vote. Reforms or abolition of the Electoral College are simply necessary. A system that allows the people of Wyoming to have over 3 .5 times as much voting power as those in California during a presidential election fails even the most basic tests of representative democracy.
The 117th Congress should look to two bills passed by the House of Representatives in 2019 — HR 1: the For the People Act, and HR 4: the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Together, these bills would expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and ensure that states cannot use discriminatory tactics to prevent communities of color from voting.
The filibuster will remain the primary obstacle for gun violence prevention reforms in the Senate.
The procedural filibuster has become an instrument of partisan gridlock, allowing a minority voice to hold the Senate hostage with the goal of inaction. In 2013, a clear majority of senators supported a bill expanding Brady Background Checks — an expansion favored by about 90% of Americans — but a procedural filibuster prevented the legislation from even coming up for a vote.
The Constitution allows the Senate to establish its own rules, and the Senate has changed the filibuster rules several times since the nation’s founding. Gun violence prevention champions in Congress must make clear that this procedural tool is being used as a means of obstruction.
The cornerstone of American democracy is the expectation that the will of the people will be exercised through their elected representatives. This democratic principle has been withheld from too many for far too long, especially those who are disproportionately affected by gun violence.
It is for that reason that Washington, D.C., should be admitted to the union as a state. This is not about partisan politics; it is about representation. Washington D.C. is a majority- minority community, with a population greater than two states, and the 16th highest firearm mortality rate in the U.S. — 40% higher than the national average.
Every American should have a say in how they can best prevent gun violence in their own communities, however, D.C. residents are at the mercy of federal legislators with little interest in their needs. As virtually all guns used to commit crime in the capital come from outside its borders, the local government needs federal solutions beyond its authority to implement.
We must take every step necessary to grant District residents full statehood and proper representation in Congress. If we are to address gun violence, those most impacted need to have a seat at the table.
In 2020, the House of Representatives passed HR 51: the Washington, D .C . Admission Act, which would make Washington, D.C. the 51st State of the United States and provide representation to the residents of the District. Congress should once again take up this measure.
2. Expand the Brady Background Check System
The Brady Background Check System has prevented millions of prohibited purchases since it went into effect, saving countless lives. Gaps in the law have arisen over the years. Expanding and strengthening this system is crucial to ensuring foundational support for all other gun laws.
Enact Universal Background Checks
Since its passage in 1993, the Brady Background Check System has prevented approximately four million prohibited gun transactions. However, gaps have emerged in the system as technology has progressed, and businesses and individuals have exploited loopholes for profit.
Approximately 1 in every 5 gun sales occurs without a background check, due in large part to the rise of gun shows and websites that facilitate private sales online. To ensure that the Brady Background Check System is comprehensive, we must expand background checks, with reasonable and narrow exceptions, to cover every gun transaction.
In the 116th Congress, the House of Representatives passed HR 8: Bipartisan Background Checks Act that would expand the nation’s background check system to cover all private firearm sales, including those at gun shows, over the internet, or in classified ads, with limited exceptions.
Fix the "Charleston Loophole"
Under current law, a licensed dealer may transfer a gun to a buyer after three business days even if the background check has yet to determine whether that buyer is legally eligible to purchase a gun, known commonly as the “Charleston Loophole.” This gap has allowed prohibited people to acquire firearms at an alarming rate: Since 2008, over 42,000 firearms have been transferred to prohibited buyers.
We must ensure that the system has adequate time to complete a background check before someone can take possession of a firearm.
In the 116th Congress, the House of Representatives passed HR 1112: Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019 that would provide the background check system additional time to make a final determination on a potential firearms purchaser before a licensed dealer can transfer a gun, while also protecting the ability of lawful citizens to obtain timely results and avoid having purchases stalled indefinitely.
3. Address gun violence in all of its forms
The strategies and policies necessary to prevent gun violence require an approach tailored to each form and its root cause. Policymakers must account for the ways in which gun violence impacts every community differently.
Treating Gun Violence as a Public Health Epidemic
American gun violence is a public health epidemic. Every day, more than 100 people are shot and killed in the United States and gun violence costs the American economy at least $229 billion every year.
Despite rapid advances in medical technology and a heightened awareness of the gun violence crisis, gun injuries and deaths continue to rise in both rural and urban areas. In order to fully understand the scope of the problem and to identify the best policy solutions to prevent these deaths, we must treat gun violence as a public health epidemic and provide sufficient funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Institute of Health (NIH) to conduct thorough, evidence-based research on the issue.
In 2019, the Gun Violence Prevention Research Act (HR 674/S 184) was introduced to commit funding for the CDC to study the gun violence epidemic for the next five fiscal years.
Disproportionate Impact of Gun Violence in Communities of Color
The impact of gun violence on Black and Latinx Americans is staggering. The gun homicide rate for Hispanics is more than double that of their white peers, and Black Americans are over 11 times more likely than white Americans to die by gun homicide. Nearly 60% of Black adults know someone who has been shot, the highest rate of any demographic in the United States.
These impacted communities also bear numerous societal costs: depressed property values, lower rates of home ownership, fewer new retail and service businesses, diminished educational and economic opportunities, and lack of access to health care, healthy food, and social opportunities. All of these effects then become root causes themselves, creating never-ending cycles of gun violence perpetuated by “solutions” that often rely on over- policing and over-incarceration. In order to address community violence, we must break these cycles. Addressing community violence requires a two- pronged approach — the “demand side” and the “supply side.”
Being shot, shot at, or witnessing a shooting doubles the probability that a young person will commit violence in the next two years.
Community violence intervention and interruption programs approach violence reduction from a public health perspective, working to reduce violence — specifically gun violence — through measurable tactics. Communities have seen dramatic decreases in violence after funding community violence prevention and intervention programs, including hospital-based intervention programs.
A successful demand-side approach will recognize that many of gun homicide’s underlying root causes stem from systemic racism. As such, efforts to reduce racism in other spheres, including education, healthcare, and social mobility, can bolster community violence programs
In 2019 S 2671: the Break the Cycle of Violence Act, was introduced to authorize new grant programs to support violence intervention initiatives.
Guns do not simply appear in cities like Oakland, Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. — all cities with strong gun laws and high gun violence homicide rates year over year. Tens of thousands of guns are trafficked across state lines every year, often from states with weak laws to states with much stronger laws.
According to the latest available data, about 90% of crime guns can be traced back to roughly 5% of licensed gun dealers. Trace data — identifying information on a gun’s sequence of ownership from manufacture to first retail sale — used to be publicly accessible, providing transparency into negligent and unlawful gun dealers, but the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has interpreted the Tiahrt Amendments as blocking it from releasing that data, shielding the gun industry from scrutiny.
Gun traffickers also obtain firearms through burglary and theft from gun dealers that lack adequate physical security or recordkeeping. Nearly 175,000 firearms were reported “stolen or lost” by federally licensed gun dealers between 2004 and 2011, and yet there are virtually no federal security requirements required of gun dealers to prevent theft.
The ATF is woefully under-resourced and despite having a goal of inspecting all federally licensed gun dealers every five years, the agency has consistently fallen short, inspecting only 12% to 13% of all dealers, pawnshops, and manufacturers on average and revoking less than 1% of licenses despite widespread, documented noncompliance. ATF supervisors routinely downgrade penalties for dealers that break the law.
Supply-side solutions to gun violence include a number of previously introduced bills including, HR 7977: Firearms Retailer Code of Conduct Act, HR 5866: Gun Trafficker Detection Act, HR 4116: Prevent Gun Trafficking Act, S 4841: ATF Improvement and Modernization Act, and HR 3234: Keeping Gun Dealers Honest Act.
Guns and Suicide
An average of 63 people die by suicide with a gun every day, accounting for approximately 60% of all gun deaths. Only 6% of attempted suicides involve a firearm, but firearm suicides account for more than 50% of all suicide deaths. A second chance is critical because the vast majority of those who attempt suicide — a full 70% — will never make another attempt on their life. The U.S. veteran community is at an even greater risk for firearm suicide. Between 2005 and 2016, the veteran suicide rate increased by over 25%.
While there are many aspects of suicide prevention outside of traditional gun violence prevention work, there is one thing that we can address head-on to decrease the likelihood of death for those experiencing suicidal ideation: reducing access to lethal means.
Access to a gun in the home increases the risk of suicide death by 300%. By limiting or delaying access to firearms, many suicides would be prevented. For these reasons, we have focused below on two policy areas that will address both impulsive and non-impulsive firearm suicide.
Extreme Risk Laws allow for individuals who are a risk to themselves or others to be temporarily separated from firearms by a court of law without criminal charges or a permanent prohibition.
Because suicide is often an impulsive act, safe storage saves lives. Firearm owners who keep their firearms locked or unloaded were at least 60% less likely to die from firearm-related suicide than those who store their firearms unlocked and/or loaded. Keeping guns locked and unloaded has also been found to have a protective effect against unintentional shootings and suicide among youth.
The 2019 bill, HR 1236: the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act, establishes a program under the Department of Justice to award grants to states to implement extreme risk laws. The bill also creates an extreme risk protection order process at the federal level to ensure individuals living in states that have not yet passed their own version of an extreme risk law have equal access to these laws.
HR 4926: the Prevent Family Fire Act of 2019, HR 4691: the Safe Gun Storage Act of 2019, and S 193: Ethan’s Law were previously introduced to incentive and/or require safe storage devices to help prevent suicide and unintentional shootings.
Ghost guns are unregulated firearms that are constructed by individuals using unfinished frames or receivers. Frames and receivers are the only parts of a firearm that are regulated under law, and because the pieces used to create ghost guns are “unfinished,” they are unserialized and untraceable.
Ghost guns undermine all existing gun laws and are intentionally marketed as such. You do not need a background check to purchase a ghost gun kit or parts, which allows prohibited individuals to build their own firearms. Law enforcement officers are also unable to trace ghost guns because they lack serial numbers, making them an all-too-frequent weapon of choice for crime.
This proliferation has been bolstered by ATF’s unwillingness to regulate ghost guns as firearms, despite calls from former Acting Director Thomas Brandon to do so.
The 117th Congress should adopt legislation similar to the formerly introduced bills HR 3553: Untraceable Firearms Act and HR 2621: Homeland Security Assessment of Terrorists Use of Ghost Guns Act, which evaluate the threat of ghost guns and work to ban their manufacture, sale, and possession.
Guns and Domestic Violence
One-third of women and one-quarter of men are victims of physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner in their lifetime and every year, 529 women are killed by a husband or male dating partner with a gun — an average of one woman every 16 hours. Inter-partner gun violence is not limited to fatal interactions; firearms are used to intimidate, silence, threaten, or harass intimate partners as well.
There are critical loopholes in federal law that allow domestic abusers to purchase guns. While abusers who have committed misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence are banned from purchasing guns under federal law, domestic violence records are much less likely to be detected by a background check due to inadequate reporting of domestic violence convictions by states.
Current law also omits acts against dating partners — an oversight known as the “boyfriend loophole.” Under current law, domestic abusers have to be married to their victim, live with their victim, or share a child in common to be convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence and prohibited from possessing firearms.
- The following pieces of legislation were introduced in the 116th Congress and should inform legislation introduced in the 117th Congress — HR 1585: Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, HR 7930: Lori Jackson Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act, and HR 4600: Domestic Violence Records Reporting Improvement Act.
Taking On the Gun Industry
One of the major causes of gun violence in America is the irresponsible business practices of the gun industry that supplies the criminal gun market, and one of the major obstacles to gun violence prevention is the unique and unprecedented protections the gun industry has been granted in federal and state law.
For example, the “Tiahrt Amendments” have been used to shield the most negligent gun dealers from public scrutiny, such as the roughly 5% of licensed firearms dealers responsible for the sale of 90% of crime guns whose identities are blocked from disclosure. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), has also been interpreted by some courts to provide firearms manufacturers and retailers unheard-of protection from civil liability, which undermines victims of gun violence and removes key incentives for the gun industry to adopt life-saving business practices.
We must end special treatment and ensure a level playing field by taking on the gun industry, removing special protections, and ensuring transparency.
- The following pieces of legislation were introduced in the 116th Congress and should inform legislation introduced in the 117th Congress to hold the gun industry accountable — HR 3214: Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act, HR 7977: Firearms Retailer Code of Conduct Act of 2020, S 4841: ATF Improvement and Modernization Act of 2020, and HR 3234: Keeping Gun Dealers Honest Act of 2019.
Mass shootings are an American epidemic that no other industrialized country experiences at the same level. Hundreds of incidents occur each year. Mass shootings account for only a small proportion of shooting victims in the U.S. every year, but the profound psychological harm and loss of life, coupled with long-lasting ripple effects of these events, make it clear that mass shootings have inherently changed the psyche of the country as a whole.
Weapons of war, including military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines (HCMs) known for their ability to exact maximum destruction and casualties, are often the guns of choice for mass shooters. Easy access to these uniquely lethal weapons is a tragically consistent factor in mass shootings. These weapons have no place on America’s streets.
- The following pieces of legislation were introduced in the 116th Congress and should inform legislation introduced in the 117th Congress to prevent mass shootings, including a ban on assault weapons — S 66: Assault Weapons Ban of 2019, HR 1263: National Firearms Amendments Act of 2019, S 447: Keep America Safe Act, HR 4691: Safe Gun Storage Act of 2019, and HR 717: Raise the Age Act.
The ease with which prohibited purchasers can access a firearm poses a serious threat to American national security and the type of firearms available to the average American consumer is incredibly diverse, including guns designed for military use. In the shadow of armed “militia” groups storming state capitols, the most recent assessment by the Department of Homeland Security ranks white supremacist groups as the greatest terrorist threat to Americans at home.
Ongoing trends in cross-border gun trafficking also continue to present a threat to our security interests. About 250,000 American-manufactured firearms are trafficked into Mexico every year, many of which will move further into Central and South America, fueling drug cartels and other crimes. The firearm homicide rate in Mexico is now four times that of America’s, and about 70% of the firearms recovered in crime there come from the United States. While some may decry asylum seekers coming to our southern border, it should be noted that many of these individuals are fleeing political and criminal violence made possible by American guns.
Recent changes to firearms exports by the Trump administration will further degrade U.S. national security interests by directly exporting America’s gun violence epidemic. Semi-automatic firearms, including assault weapons, that were once under State Department and congressional review for export licensing have been transferred to the Commerce Department’s control, removing key oversight and human rights considerations. Even more recently, the Trump administration rescinded the ban on overseas silencer sales, which had been instituted to prevent terrorist groups from killing American soldiers with them. America’s arms sales should serve its national security interests, not endanger them.
- The following pieces of legislation were introduced in the 116th Congress and should inform legislation introduced in the 117th Congress to ensure American national security both domestically and across borders — HR 1134: Prevent Crime and Terrorism Act, HR 4324: Multiple Firearm Sales Reporting Modernization Act, and HR 2621: Homeland Security Assessment of Terrorists Use of Ghost Guns Act.
Police violence is the unlawful, unnecessary, or disproportionate use of force by law enforcement. Because police violence in all of its forms is facilitated by the direct use, threat, or perceived threat of firearms, police violence is gun violence. The prevalence of police violence is exacerbated by deeply-rooted racism in American culture, the shocking militarization of police, insufficient police training and dangerous policing tactics and policies, and extreme barriers to transparency and accountability.
Furthermore, police violence undermines the overall effort to combat gun violence by engendering distrust in communities that sorely need effective policing. As we work to tackle the gun violence epidemic in America, we cannot ignore police violence or its devastating effects.
No one piece of legislation will end systemic racism in policing and violence overnight. Changes to policing must include reallocation and reassessment of resources and authority from police to other services and organizations; reform of police practices; mandated transparency; and mechanisms to ensure accountability and justice.
A hate crime is a crime motivated by prejudice against core aspects of a person’s identity, such as race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. In 2019 there were over 8,500 hate crime offenses reported to the Department of Justice, but the actual number of hate crimes occurring is difficult to determine due to under-reporting at local, state, and national levels.
Distressingly, hate crimes are on the rise — hate crimes in the largest U.S. cities were up about 20% in 2017 compared to 2016, and fatal hate crimes rose to their highest level in over a decade in 2019.
Only a handful of states have passed laws that prohibit those convicted of a bias-motivated misdemeanor from buying guns. Individuals with prior hate crime misdemeanor convictions are at an increased risk for future violence and firearm-related crimes. Individuals who exercise violence on the basis of hate present a clear danger to society. Congress should act to close this loophole and withhold firearms access from all individuals convicted of violent hate crimes.
- Congress should pass legislation to expand the categories of persons who are prohibited from possessing a firearm to anyone who has been convicted of a misdemeanor hate crime or has received an enhanced hate crime misdemeanor sentence, similar to HR 2708: the Disarm Hate Act which was introduced in 2019.