In a letter to Vice President Joseph Biden, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Senator Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.) issued a joint call to action to reduce gun violence, urging measures to expand existing assault weapons bans, improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check system, institute universal background checks for gun and ammunition purchases, strengthen the nation’s mental health systems, encourage manufacturing of safer guns, and improve federal tracking of guns.
The joint recommendations were issued following conversations with Connecticut’s law enforcement community, educators, mental health experts, community leaders and the parents of the students at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“The recent shootings in Newtown, Connecticut reminded Americans of the horror that is possible when one deranged person can gain access to dangerous weapons,”the senators state. “The weeks after this horrific mass shooting have been filled with grief and pain, as we have seen firsthand, but the strength and courage of the families and the community should inspire us to prevent gun violence in the future. While we may never be able to prevent all mass shootings, we can certainly take reasonable steps to reduce the number of incidents and the potential fatalities.”
The senators’ recommendations are as follows:
Expand the assault weapons ban to include a ban on high capacity magazines
The U.S. Department of Justice found the previous assault weapons ban was responsible for a seven percent decline in total gun murders. Since that ban lapsed in 2004, assault weapons have been used in nearly 500 incidents, causing nearly 400 deaths. These military-style weapons were a factor in the tragedies in Newtown, Tuscon, Oak Creek, Aurora, Columbine and Virginia Tech, among other horrific mass shootings. “We owe it to the victims and their families to reinstate the assault weapons ban and limit magazines to ten rounds,” the letter states.
Improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) system
According to a November 2011 report by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, lax reporting by state agencies resulted in millions of missing records that would have identified seriously mentally ill individuals and drug abusers as prohibited purchasers in the federal background check database. Many federal agencies still do not report necessary information to this critically important database. Further, an estimated 40 percent of gun purchases are completed without any NICS background check due to loopholes that exempt private sales, including those at gun shows. “These loopholes provide easy access to guns for individuals who otherwise could not pass a background check,” the letter states.
Strengthen the mental health system
In addition to the common thread of assault weapons and high capacity magazines, recent mass shootings have also shared the unfortunate fact that the gunmen all suffered from either a history of mental illness or significant signs of mental health issues. The senators applaud President Obama’s recognition of the critical importance that mental health will play in any comprehensive approach to reducing gun violence. “We must recognize that our public mental health system is inadequately funded and private insurance often erects barriers to accessing care,” the senators state. States cut over $4 billion in public mental health spending between 2009 and 2012, and 3,000 psychiatric beds were lost over that same period. Only about one-third of those with moderate illness and two-thirds of those with severe illness receive care.
Require background checks for sales of ammunition
If an individual wants to purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer today, he will be required to go through a 30-second background check. Over the last decade, these checks have prevented the sale of 700,000 guns to felons, fugitives, domestic abusers, drug addicts, the mentally ill, and other unauthorized purchasers. While those unauthorized purchasers are similarly barred from purchasing ammunition, dealers must ask for nothing beyond proof of age before making the sale. “By requiring background checks on sales of ammunition, we can put one strong additional obstacle between a potential mass murderer and the tools to destroy lives and devastate communities,” the senators state.
Develop rules to encourage firearm manufacturers to create safer guns
The senators ask that the gun industry be required to move gradually towards safer products, a practice that is already required of and accepted by other industries. “In other areas, consumer regulation ensures that companies move gradually towards safer products. Unfortunately, gun manufacturers have been largely immune from such regulation. As a result, when it comes to developments in gun safety, time has largely stood still,” the letter states. As Connecticut Attorney General 12 years ago, Senator Blumenthal worked with Smith & Wesson and law enforcement to reach a settlement in which the firearms company agreed to immediately begin production of guns that would recognize their owners’ grip. Such guns would never be accidentally fired by a child or stolen by an intruder and used against a homeowner. Twelve years later, gun manufacturers have failed to produce these kinds of innovative products that would make their owners and the general public safer. “We need to create a system of laws that moves gun manufacturers in the right direction for their customers and for our communities,” the letter states.
Federal tracking of guns
The letter urges federal law enforcement agencies to keep track of the millions of guns flowing through communities nationwide. The Department of Justice must destroy records of gun purchases within 24 hours. Had this not been the case, federal law enforcement agencies may have known that Nancy Lanza was keeping an arsenal of guns near her disturbed son. “Surely with all of the technology and expertise in the hands of the Justice Department we can find a way to keep track of gun purchases in a way that protects the privacy of law-abiding gun owners while giving law enforcement valuable information to stop the next Adam Lanza before he is allowed to kill,” the letter states.
Ben Marter (Murphy): 202-228-9606