5 Policies That States Are Using to Curb Gun Violence, With Encouraging Results

Written by Michele Gorman

On average, nearly 34,000 people are killed in the U.S. each year due to gun homicide, suicide or accidents, with another 81,000 who are shot but survive. But zeroing in on the causes of gun violence, in order to thwart them, is no easy task. It’s not just about a glut of available firearms or how easy it is to obtain one. As the Center for American Progress pointed out in its 2016 Progress Index, there is a connected web of social and economic issues that can impact rates of violence in a community — persistent poverty and a lack of employment, to name a few.

That’s led several communities to take novel approaches to curb the bloodshed, either by expanding existing federal law or implementing new ideas altogether. Below, five policies put in place by cities and states around the country whose smart governance on guns is changing the landscape for the better.


Federal law already requires licensed firearms dealers to perform criminal background checks on prospective buyers. But unlicensed private sellers — who are responsible for about 40 percent of all gun sales in “no questions asked” transactions — are not legally bound to follow the same rules.

Since the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., six states (Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Oregon and Washington) have successfully closed this gap by passing and implementing these so-called universal background checks on every sale and transfer within their borders (including those purchased at gun shows and online) for all classes of firearms, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Nevada could soon be the seventh, but the state is currently undergoing a procedural dispute over the implementation of the measure.


Research has repeatedly shown a lethal link between domestic violence and gun violence in the U.S. In 2011, nearly two-thirds of women who were murdered were shot and killed by their intimate partners. “It’s a huge epidemic,” says Hannah Shearer, staff attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Under federal law, people convicted of a felony or domestic abuse cannot buy or own a gun. But there are some limitations to that measure, like defining a domestic abuser only as a spouse. To protect more women, some states, including six in 2017 alone, have strengthened federal law by expanding that definition to also encompass former dating partners.


The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives requires a federal license for those in the business of selling guns. But the law doesn’t mandate that dealers perform background checks on their employees, says Avery Gardiner, co-president at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “They also don’t train them to recognize signs of illegal gun trafficking, nor is a gun store even required to lock up its inventory at night,” she says.

In response, 15 states, along with Washington, D.C., have made state-issued licenses mandatory for gun dealers. Additionally, six states — California, Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia and Washington — now require gun stores to do background checks on employees.


“Sometimes gun deaths in cities that are ethnically diverse get overlooked,” Shearer says, adding that instead, there’s a tendency to focus on mass shootings and rare events. But the reality is that deaths by guns happen every day across the country.

The Law Center published a report last year on promising approaches being implemented nationwide to reduce urban gun violence. One such city that’s seen success: Richmond, Calif.

In 2007, the Bay Area city was considered one of the country’s most dangerous. So officials there enacted intervention programs and policy reforms in response. They created a new agency, the Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS), to treat violence as a communicable disease and connected vulnerable residents to social services. As ONS’s director DeVone Boggan, a 2015 NationSwell AllStar, described the agency’s mission: “You’ve got to understand the nature of [violence], and you’ve got to understand the drivers of it” in order to combat it.

The results were impressive, with homicides in Richmond dipping by 2010. Three years later the city saw its murder rate fall from more than 40 homicides a year to 16, its lowest number in more than three decades.


A measure designed to keep guns away from people perceived at risk of harming themselves or others allows police, and sometimes family members, to ask the courts to intervene. Provided with enough evidence, a judge might temporarily deny a person’s access to guns if he or she is deemed to be a significant danger.

Connecticut was the first state to enact a version of this order in 1999, followed later by Indiana, California and Washington State. Others, including Oregon, are considering adopting similar bills. In 2016, researchers from Duke University led a study that found a measurable reduction in Connecticut’s suicide rate as a result of its risk-warrant policy.

“These laws have a huge potential for saving lives,” Shearer says, “because family members often notice warning signs that somebody is suicidal or homicidal before something really bad happens.”

This post originally appeared on NationSwell

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Photo Credit: Michael Saechang/Flickr


Sarah H
Sarah H3 months ago

What we really need to address is mental health!

Edith B
Edith B4 months ago

This seems to be a never ending discussion with no real results.

Stephanie s
Stephanie s4 months ago


Stephanie s
Stephanie s4 months ago


Annabel Bedini
Annabel Bedini4 months ago

David F
Well, you've certainly done your research! As I said, the Jews, but not only the Jews, did not in general possess firearms.

Here's a scenario for you: the gun-owning Jews in the ghetto of, say, Ulm hear they are going to be rounded up and deported who knows where. They form up, weapons at the ready, to defend themselves. There's a shoot-out. Who's likely to win? Dead Jews, widows and orphaned children with what future? Reprisals. Say the same happens wherever there's a group of Jewish residents. What's the outcome? See the problem? You are not getting an army of 10 million all in one place making war on the Nazis. Could you be more realistic please David.

The fact remains that whether it's because of unrestricted weapon ownership or a kind of wild west psychology, in America you are much more at risk from gun violence than you are in Europe. Period.
Having said that, the measures suggested above look as though they could be working. Good luck to them!

Philippa P
Philippa Powers4 months ago


David F
David F4 months ago

Annabel: So in your opinion if 10 million Jews had been armed, it would have made no difference to their fate during WWII. Maybe the Jews in Israel will take your advice and destroy their firearms, just think of all of the crime it would stop.
Excerpt from Nazi gun laws:
Nazi Weapons Act of 1938 (Translated to English)
• Classified guns for “sporting purposes”.
• All citizens who wished to purchase firearms had to register with the Nazi officials and have a background check. (only Nazi party members could acquire guns)
• Presumed German citizens were hostile and thereby exempted Nazis from the gun control law.
• Gave Nazis unrestricted power to decide what kinds of firearms could, or could not be owned by private persons.
• The types of ammunition that were legal were subject to control by bureaucrats.
• Juveniles under 18 years could not buy firearms and ammunition.

Regulations Against Jews Possession of Weapons
11 November 1938
With a basis in 31 of the Weapons Law of 18 March 1938 (Reichsgesetzblatt I, p.265), Article III of the Law on the Reunification of Austria with Germany of 13 March 1938 (Reichsgesetzblatt I, p. 237), and §9 of the Führer and Chancellor's decree on the administration of the Sudeten-German districts of 1 October 1938 (Reichsgesetzblatt I,

Paul B
Paul B4 months ago

All these are fine steps to curb gun violence. I have always felt the best measures were those that looked more closely at those who pose a threat, history of violence, mental health, gang associations, even social media indicating an intent to commit violence, or similar factors often noticed in those who do indeed commit violence.
The problem is with HIPPA laws and the inability of society to "speculate" on those who pose a threat as defined will inhibit the overall ability of these efforts to be successful. We do have rights that supercede these efforts and must be very careful that we operate within those guidelines. Efforts in troubled areas to reduce crime is great, but government overstep and intervention could be a problem if the efforts start along a slippery slope that restrict law-abiding citizens the right to possess a legal weapon.
But I think any efforts like those listed could definitely help reduce gun violence with minimal federal intervention.

Rhoberta E
Rhoberta E5 months ago

david f
I may be "digging myself into a deeper hole" but one thing is for sure I would ALWAYS be standing on your head in that hole.
You also use the tired story about feeding my dog. I think at 4 lbs. her footprint isn't much. .

Annabel Bedini
Annabel Bedini5 months ago

David F
You seem to be a bit confused between anti-Communism and the argument for an armed population. And interesting how your historical view point has been dictated by typically American anti-Communist propaganda. The Communist threat reached paranoia levels in the US (look at MaCarthy) which never corresponded to reality on the ground in Europe, in which anti-Communism was alive and well and fully functioning quite apart from the Marshall plan. And in any case this has nothing to do with the right to possess weapons.

You are also mistaken in saying that 'their own governments' disarmed the Jewish and other minority groups. David, they didn't own firearms in the first place. And you don't understand how these things work if you believe, if they had been armed, they would have risen up en masse – what, little bands here and there all over Europe? – against their persecutors and won. As I've already said, I'm afraid you are being naive.