Brady's Legislative Blueprint for a Safer America
This is a pivotal moment in our fight to end the public health epidemic of gun violence in America.
We call on members of the 118th Congress to build upon past achievements, and work with us toward creating a better, safer, and more just America.
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 and engaging with the American people, 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, Brady has identified three broad areas of focus:
1. Expanding and Defending Democratic Norms
2. Expand the Brady Background Check System
3. Address Gun Violence In All Of Its Forms
1. Expanding and Defending Democratic Norms
We cannot adequately address gun violence until we fix unjust democratic systems and protect principles of democracy. Reforms that will prevent stonewalling and special interest influence, as well as expanding representative democracy and protecting the disenfranchised, are critical to building a safer America.
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 and more than $37 million between 2020 and 2022 in support of gun industry allies in federal elections.
Two presidents in the last 25 years were elected despite failing to win the popular support of American voters, underscoring the antidemocratic nature of our Electoral College. As a result, a majority of the current Supreme Court justices were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote and we are forced to live with the ripple effects of their decisions, like in the case of NYSRPA v. Bruen.
Until it is reformed or eliminated, the filibuster will remain the primary obstacle for gun violence prevention reforms in the Senate.
In 2013, a clear majority of senators supported a bill expanding Brady Background Checks — an expansion favored by over 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. — 35% 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.
2. Expand the Brady Background Check System
The Brady Background Check System has prevented over 4.4 million unlawful gun transactions since it went into effect, saving countless lives. Gaps in the law have arisen over the years as technology has progressed and businesses and individuals have exploited loopholes for profit. Expanding and strengthening this system is crucial to ensuring foundational support for all other gun laws.
Enact Universal Background Checks
Approximately 1 in every 5 gun sales occurs without a background check, due to gun shows, private transactions, and the rise of websites that facilitate gun 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.
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: In just 2020 and 2021, at least 11,500 firearms were transferred to purchasers later determined to be prohibited.
We must ensure that the system has adequate time to complete a background check before someone can take possession of a firearm.
*The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act now provides the NICS background check system with an additional 10 business days to complete background checks before a gun can be transferred, however, this only applies to individuals under the age of 21 and only in cases where records may apply to a prohibiting offense committed as a juvenile.
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. In 2020, more than 45,000 people were shot and killed in the U.S. — an average of more than 120 people every day, 12 of whole were children and teens. According to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC) gun deaths cost the American economy more than $900 billion in 2019 and 2020.
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.
Disproportionate Impact of Gun Violence in Communities of Color
The impact of gun violence on Black and Latinx Americans is staggering. Homicides account for more than 80% of gun deaths among Black Americans, who are eight times more likely than white Americans to die by gun homicide. And the gun homicide rate for Hispanics is more than double that of their white peers.
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 generational 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.”
Demand-Side Approach: Addressing the root causes of interpersonal violence
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
Supply-Side Approach: Addressing the unfettered flow of guns into impacted communities
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.
The ATF is woefully under-resourced and despite having a goal of inspecting all federally licensed gun dealers every three to five years, the agency has consistently fallen short. In 2022, ATF inspected 5.1% of licensed gun dealers. ATF supervisors have also routinely downgrade penalties for dealers that break the law.
Guns and Suicide
An average of 66 people die by suicide with a gun every day, accounting for approximately 60% of all gun deaths. Firearms are extremely lethal compared to other common methods of attempting suicide; less than 10% of suicidal acts are fatal, but about 90% of suicidal acts with a firearm result in death. A second chance is critical because the overwhelming majority of those who attempt suicide, will not go on to die by suicide. The U.S. veteran community is at an even greater risk for firearm suicide. In 2020, the suicide rate for veterans was 57% greater than U.S. adult non-veterans.
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.
- Extreme Risk Laws (sometimes called “red flag laws” or ERPOs) 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.
- Safe firearm storage can prevent suicide by giving individuals critical moments to reconsider. Firearm owners who keep their guns locked or unloaded have previously been found at least 60% less likely to die from firearm-related suicide than those who store their firearms unlocked and/or loaded.
Ghost guns are unregulated and untraceable firearms that anyone can buy and build without a background check and without complying with other requirements mandated by federal or state law for traditional firearm transactions.
Ghost guns undermine all existing gun laws and are intentionally marketed as such. 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.
In 2022, the Department of Justice under President Biden amended ATF regulations to clarify that unfinished frames and receivers are encompassed in the federal definition of firearms, making them subject to the same federal laws and regulations as other commercially-made firearms. This rule change was a crucial step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done. There is still ambiguity about which parts are regulated under the new definition, and the industry is working hard to circumvent the rule change.
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, 556 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 an abuser's partner as well.
Prior to enactment of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, individuals had to be married to, live with, or have a child in common with a domestic violence victim in order to be prohibited from possessing firearms because of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence — commonly known as the "boyfriend loophole." The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act updated this language to include dating partners convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence, who will now be prohibited form possessing guns for five years.
However, there are still critical loopholes that continue to put people in danger. Domestic violence records are much less likely to be detected by a background check due to inadequate reporting of domestic violence convictions by states and abusers can still access firearms through private sales, which are not subject to Brady Background Checks.
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, a situation made worse by 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 scrutiny, including 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.
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 their frequency is growing. 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 large-capacity magazines (LCMs) 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 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 crime. 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 U.S. 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.
Changes to firearms export regime 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.
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 2021 there were over 8,600 hate crime offenses reported to the Department of Justice, nearly two-thirds of which were motivated by racism. Such incidents are also vastly underreported.
Only a handful of states have passed laws that prohibit those convicted of a bias-motivated misdemeanor from buying guns. Individuals with prior violent hate crime misdemeanor convictions are at an increased risk for future violence and firearm-related crimes. Congress should act to close this loophole and withhold firearms access from all individuals convicted of violent hate crimes.
Preventing Dangerous Firearm Policy
In states across the country, many legislatures have acted at the behest of the gun industry and gun rights extremists to loosen standards on purchasing, possessing, and carrying firearms. The consequences of such lax laws are already bearing out, often with tragic and foreseeable outcomes. For example, in 2007, lawmakers in Missouri repealed a nearly century old requirement that individuals obtain a permit in order to purchase a handgun. Over the next decade, the state saw both a 47% increase in firearm homicide rates and more than a 23% increase in firearm suicide rates.
At present, two policies have the strongest support among allies of the gun industry in Congress and are likely to be proposed at the federal level: the implementation of unregulated national concealed carry and deregulation of silencers.
Unregulated National Concealed Carry
Long a top priority for the gun industry, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act would allow virtually anyone to carry a concealed handgun almost anywhere in the United States, regardless of state law, and would disincentivize law enforcement from ensuring that individuals carrying concealed firearms are doing so lawfully.
Another top priority for the gun industry is to deregulate firearm silencers, also known as “suppressors,” which are devices that muffle the sound of a gun when it is fired, making it harder for law enforcement and bystanders to react accordingly. Congress took necessary public safety action to regulate silencers during the Prohibition era because of their common use by organized crime. The Hearing Protection Act, first introduced into Congress in 2017, would remove silencers from the list of items considered “firearms” under the National Firearms Act, making them available to the public without any additional requirements.