In the wake of the Parkland shooting in February 2018, students all over the United States have risen up to say #NeverAgain. From the March For Our Lives to national walkouts, students are leading the way in the movement to demand that Congress stand up to the gun lobby and protect their constituents’ lives.
Thoughts and prayers are not enough - as the shooting at Santa Fe High School on May 18, 2018 demonstrates, the epidemic of mass shootings will only be alleviated if legislators take action. Gun violence is an issue that affects us all. Indivisible marches in solidarity with the students, and follows their lead in this movement.
But it is unacceptable that our elected officials aren’t doing more to stop gun violence like the Parkland or Santa Fe shootings. Like so many other issues, policymakers need to feel the pressure in order to take action. At the federal, state and local level, Indivisibles can have an impact in preventing gun violence. Here’s what you can do.
- Tell the U.S. Congress to Reject the NRA’s Wish List
- Advocate for Common Sense Gun Laws in your State
- Learn about important considerations for gun safety advocates
One of the most difficult truths at this moment is that we have a Republican-controlled Congress that is beholden to the gun lobby. That means we don’t have agenda-setting power to bring real, meaningful gun safety legislation to the floor of this Congress.
But there is still plenty we can do to help prevent gun violence from getting any worse. Here’s what we can impact in this Congress:
- Don’t let Congress make current laws worse
- Block the NRA’s favorite lawyer from a federal judicial appointment
- Get your MoCs on record in support of gun violence prevention
Believe it or not, Congress is considering weakening the state of gun safety in America. The NRA’s top priority is the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, and it already passed the House on a bipartisan basis. This bill would require states to recognize the gun laws of other states, essentially forcing them to accept lower standards than their own—think of it as a race to the bottom for gun violence prevention. It still has to pass the Senate, and we can stop it.
The NRA spent an unprecedented amount of money to elect Donald Trump as president—and he has rewarded them by nominating their go-to attorney as a federal judge for life. If confirmed, Howard Nielson could decide issues that shape the law for a generation to come. That’s a huge problem, because he regularly defends the NRA in court and has a pro-torture, anti-LGBT record. The Senate can block him, but only if we pressure them.
One of the students leading this movement, Emma González, said: “They say no laws could have prevented the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS.” We think Emma is right, and when the big blue wave hits Congress in November 2018, we expect gun safety to be at the top of the agenda. Now is the time for Members of Congress to be on the record in support policies that will protect their constituent’s lives. Here are some great bills that your Members of Congress should co-sponsor and support:
- Legislation to strengthen background checks (S. 2009 in the Senate, and H.R. 4240 in the House)
- Legislation to allow family members or law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily prohibit firearm possession for individuals determined to pose a threat to themselves or others. (S. 2521 and S. 1212 in the Senate, H.R. 2598 in the House)
- Bans on bump stocks (S. 1916 in the Senate, H.R. 3947 in the House)
- Raising minimum age to 21 to purchase or possess a semiautomatic firearm (S. 2470 in the Senate and H.R. 5088 in the House).
Much like many of our other fights at the federal level, it is extremely hard to convince a Republican-controlled Congress to do the right thing, even when our children’s lives are on the line. Therefore, we must turn to the states to pass laws to prevent gun violence in our communities.
The federal government can set standards and practices that apply to all states around gun safety. But states have the option of passing additional measures to protect their own residents from gun violence. States have different laws that range from good to terrible. To advocate for gun safety in your state, you should:
- Learn what the gun laws are in your state
- Learn what types of provisions states can put in place to prevent gun violence
- Work with gun reform advocacy groups to advocate for legislation in your state
Our partners at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Moms Demand Action/Everytown for Gun Safety have done amazing research about gun regulations in each state. Check out their resources to find out the status of your state’s gun laws.
- Gifford's State Gun Law Scorecard
- Gifford's Gun Laws by State
- Everytown for Gun Safety Gun Law Navigator
There are a variety of provisions that states can enact to reduce the number of dangerous weapons that can be legally purchased, prevent people who pose a heightened risk to community safety from acquiring guns, and ensure that those who do own guns are taught how to use them safely. Unfortunately, only a handful of states have enacted these common sense gun laws.
- Ban assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines
Assault weapons are military-grade weapons. Their purpose is to kill as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. Large capacity ammunition magazines hold up to 100 bullets, which allow a shooter to fire repeated shots without having to stop to reload. These are the types of weapons that are often use in mass murders.
- Ban bump stocks
Bump stocks are devices that allow rifles to fire more rapidly, allowing a semi-automatic weapon to behave like an automatic one.
- Universal background checks
Federal law requires background checks on firearms sold by federally licensed firearms dealers. However, 40% of all gun sales in America occur privately at gun shows, flea markets, over the internet, or between individuals. Therefore, if a state has not implemented a policy to close this loophole and require a background check for private sales, it is possible that people who would ordinarily fail a background check (e.g., convicted felons or domestic abusers) would be able to obtain a firearm legally.
- Age limit on gun purchases
Under current federal law, an 18 year old can legally buy a semi-automatic rifle (compared to the requirement that they be 21 to purchase a handgun).
- Waiting periods
Waiting period laws mandate that a period of time elapse between a gun purchase and the physical transfer of the gun to the owner.
- Extreme risk protective orders
Extreme risk protection orders (ERPO) allow families or law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily remove guns from the possession of individuals who may be at risk of injuring themselves or others.
- Require gun owners to be licensed, registered, and complete safety training
We require licenses for all sorts of activities, like driving and fishing. Yet most states do not require a license before purchasing a weapon that can kill people.
- Eliminate “shoot first” laws
“Shoot first” or “stand your ground” law, which allows a person to use deadly force in a public place in self-defense, even if such force can be avoided by the person’s retreat. Shoot first laws are a threat to public safety because citizens are able to shoot anyone they deem to be “suspicious.” In a nation with a deeply embedded history of systemic racism, these laws disproportionately affect our communities of color.
- Prohibit military-grade weaponry from being transferred to police
We cannot talk about gun violence without discussing the tragic killings of people of color at the hands of police in this country. In August 2017, as part of their ongoing efforts to push a white supremacist agenda, Trump and Jeff Sessions rolled back Obama’s executive order that had placed limits on the sale of surplus military equipment to state and local police departments, allowing police departments access to military-grade weaponry once again.
To learn more about these different provisions, check out our resource here.
You can try to find out what gun legislation is being considered in your state at Fast Democracy by selecting your state and using the search term “firearm.” But advocacy groups like Moms Demand Action, Everytown for Gun Safety, and Community Justice Reform Coalition have been fighting to end gun violence in our communities for decades. The best thing to do is to team up with these expert advocacy groups and join their efforts to fight for gun reform in your state!
- Be careful of the language you use when talking about gun safety to ensure that you are not reinforcing harmful stereotypes about communities of color. Here is a great resource about how to talk about gun safety.
- It is important to remember that our current law enforcement policies contribute to structural discrimination and the mass criminalization of people of color. When we talk about preventing gun violence, we should consider how any policies we propose that involve law enforcement could target or harm communities of color.
- Avoid categorizing all people with mental illness as inherently threatening. Mental illness is already stigmatized in this country and only a very small subset of mentally ill people actually commit violent crimes.