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Addressing Gun Violence

The State Level

Safe Storage/Child Access Prevention
The presence of unlocked guns in the home increases the risk of both accidental gun injuries and intentional shootings. A recent study found that more than 75% of the guns used in youth suicide attempts and unintentional injuries were stored in the residence of the victim, a relative, or a friend. At least 2 studies have found that the risk of suicide increases in homes where guns are kept loaded and/or unlocked. Child access prevention (CAP) laws impose criminal liability on adults who negligently leave firearms accessible to children or otherwise allow children access to firearms. View state-specific summaries on this law here. States are also considering legislation that would requires guns to be stored locked and unloaded with no regard to whether or not children are present. View the CQStateTrack Profile: Safe Storage/Child Access Prevention for more information.

Trigger Locks
Firearm locking devices include a wide range of disabling devices designed to keep unauthorized users from gaining access to guns, and to make unintentional deaths and injuries less likely. These mechanisms include: internal locks, which are normally mounted in the grip of the gun, and either lock the manual thumb safety into place or internally secure the hammer; and external trigger locks, the most common of which cover the trigger mechanism on either side with two metal or plastic pieces that clamp around the trigger guard and completely cover the trigger. Locking device/trigger lock laws can either require that all gun owners store their firearm locked using this device or require that gun dealer provide trigger locks at the point of sale. Learn about state-specific policies here.

Design Safety Standards
The federal Consumer Product Safety Act, which imposes health and safety standards on consumer products, exempts firearms and ammunition from its requirements. “Junk” handguns or “Saturday Night Specials” are cheaply manufactured weapons made with inferior metals. Cheap and easy to conceal, they are more likely to malfunction or misfire. These types of weapons are disproportionately used by criminal young adult and juvenile offenders. AAP policy recommends that all firearms be subjected to safety design restrictions.

Universal Background Checks
Current federal law requires background checks to be performed on anyone purchasing a firearm at a federally licensed gun dealer. However, in most states, private gun sales between owners and sales of firearms at gun shows and flea markets are not regulated. States with universal background check laws require that all sales of firearms take place through a licensed dealer who can perform a background check prior to the sale of the firearm.  

Assault Weapons
The federal assault weapons ban, which prohibited the sale and manufacture of certain military-style semiautomatic weapons and high capacity magazines in the United States expired in 2004. Despite AAP advocacy efforts, the federal assault weapons ban has languished in Congress since the expiration. Meanwhile, states have enacted their own bans on assault weapons such as semiautomatic rifles and pistols, along with high-capacity magazines, typically defined as cartridges which hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition at a time. High capacity magazines have been used in most of the high profile mass shootings in the United States including those at Columbine High School (Colorado), Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora (Colorado), Oak Creek (Wisconsin), and Newtown (Connecticut). View the state-specific legislation updates here.

Licensing Restrictions
Some states require individual to obtain a license or permit to authorize the individual to purchase and/or possess a firearm. The most comprehensive laws require all gun owners to obtain a license prior to obtaining a firearm. In general licensing requirements included proof of state residency, fingerprints, and/or passed written and performance-based tests showing that the applicant knows how to safely load, fire, and store a gun, and has knowledge of relevant firearms laws. The goal of licensing laws is to reduce the number of unintentional shootings by ensuring that gun owners know how to safely use and store firearms; to increase compliance with existing firearms laws by requiring gun owners to demonstrate knowledge of those laws; and to decrease illegal gun sales and possession by ensuring that all licensees are eligible to possess firearms under federal and state law.

Waiting Period Requirements
Laws imposing waiting periods require that a specified number of days elapse between the time a firearm is purchased and it is physically transferred to the purchaser. The purpose of a waiting period is to give law enforcement officials sufficient time to perform a background check and provide a “cooling off” period to help guard against impulsive acts.

Mental Health Restrictions
AAP policy recommends that stronger mental health restrictions for gun ownership can reduce gun deaths and injuries. Under current federal law, it is unlawful for any person to sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition to any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that such person “has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution.” States can institute stronger laws to define other diagnoses which preclude gun ownership. View state laws here.

The Academy created a comparison chart on the various State Gun Safety Laws. View the chart here.

Find additional information on addressing gun violence in the Practice, Community, and State.

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