Gun Safety Reform Ideas In The Wake Of The Chattanooga Shooting
After yesterday’s mass shooting in Chattanooga, Tennessee, we have yet another tragedy to add to the list of shootings of service-members on our home soil. Details are still emerging about the alleged shooter, now dead, and how he obtained his weapon. What we do know, however, is that incidents like yesterday’s happen far too often in this country. The graphic below outlines a few:
These terrible events expose the gaping holes in our gun safety laws that we can take common-sense steps to correct. The biggest hole is that criminals and dangerous individuals can still legally buy guns without a background check and with no questioned asked. Strengthening background check laws has support from 90 percent of Americans and 18 states have already acted to close this loophole.
Another lesser-known but major flaw is the “terror gap,” which allows individuals on terror watch-lists to continue to legally purchase guns. The Department of Justice is investigating yesterday’s shooting as an act of terrorism, and while the Department has declined to classify the Charleston attack as terrorism, many commentators have argued persuasively that it should have been classified as such. Increasingly, lone-wolf terrorists are using guns to perpetrate their attacks—in fact, 59 percent of domestic terror attacks between April 1, 2009 and February 1, 2015 were committed with a gun. And in the last decade, individuals on terror watch-lists attempted to purchase guns 2,233 times. While we do not know the motive behind yesterday’s shooting, making these common sense reforms would make it harder for dangerous people to get their hands on guns and would be a huge step forward in preventing gun violence in this country.
When it comes to violence and criminal justice, however, it’s not all bad news. Yesterday, in order to highlight his call for criminal justice reform, President Obama became the first president to visit a prison. And earlier this week, signaling one of his priorities as his second term nears an end, the president commuted the sentences of 46 low-level drug offenders. The effort to reform our criminal justice system also got another high-level backer to add to its bipartisan group yesterday: Speaker John Boehner indicated his support, saying that there are many people in prison “that really don’t need to be there” and telling reporters he wants bipartisan legislation to come to the House floor.
BOTTOM LINE: While it is too soon to say all that contributed to yesterday’s tragedy, it reminds us of the work we must do to prevent more incidents like it from happening in the future. Our nation is safer when potential terrorists and criminals don’t have easy access to guns. And at the same time, we should stop putting people behind bars for low-level non-violent offenses, and several events this week were important steps to correcting that.
The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.