By Marian Wright Edelman
On November 6, 17-year-old Da’Qwan Jones-Morris, a former Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom Schools® scholar from St. Paul, Minnesota, was killed when he was accidentally shot in the chest by a 15-year-old friend playing with a stolen gun in our gun saturated nation. Da’Qwan and a group of friends were playing video games after school when the boy who had stolen the gun a few days earlier pulled it out of his bag to show it to the 15-year-old, who fired it without realizing it was loaded. Da’Qwan, a high school senior, was the co-captain of his football team and excited about applying to college. His mother said she always sought out positive opportunities like the CDF Freedom Schools program, sports, and the church choir to keep her son busy—but she still couldn’t keep him safe.
When will parents be able to protect their children from guns? CDF’s Protect Children Not Guns 2019 report sets the record straight about critical truths you need to know about gun regulations, gun laws, and the gun industry in America to fight the scourge of gun violence in our nation that takes 3,410 child lives a year—one every 2 hours and 34 minutes. It is outrageous and irresponsible that the only unregulated consumer product in America is one that takes the lives of nine children and teens a day and injures another 50.
1. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) can regulate teddy bears and toy guns but not real guns. A 1976 amendment to the Consumer Product Safety Act specifically states that the Commission “shall make no ruling or order that restricts the manufacture or sale of guns, guns ammunition, or components of guns ammunition, including black powder or gunpowder for guns.” This restriction remains in effect today. As a result, the CPSC can regulate teddy bears and toy guns but not real guns—one of the most deadly consumer products that kills 39,220 Americans every year. This is disgraceful!
2. The gun industry has been granted broad immunity from liability lawsuits, preventing consumers from holding negligent gun manufacturers and dealers accountable for irresponsible behavior unlike every other major industry. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA)—passed by Congress in 2005 with pressure from the NRA—grants gun manufacturers and dealers broad immunity from federal and state liability lawsuits. The PLCAA makes it nearly impossible to hold the gun industry accountable, prohibiting individuals from filing lawsuits against gun manufacturers or dealers when their dangerous products cause harm or their irresponsible practices enable criminals to obtain guns. No other industry enjoys such blanket immunity. Given these special protections, gun manufacturers and dealers face virtually no penalties for failing to make guns safer or preventing their guns from getting into the wrong hands.
3. Virtually anyone can buy a gun without a background check under current law. Federal law requires anyone purchasing a gun from a federally licensed dealer to complete a background check but does not cover private sales at gun shows, sales over the internet, and between individuals. These hugely dangerous loopholes allow people unable to pass a background check—including those convicted of violent crimes and domestic abuse—to easily obtain a gun.
4. Common sense gun safety laws work and have effectively reduced gun violence without preventing law abiding citizens from owning guns.
- Tighter regulation and oversight of gun sellers prevents guns being diverted to criminals. A study with data from 54 U.S. cities found diverting guns to criminals is much less common in states that license retail gun sellers; require careful record keeping that can be reviewed by law enforcement; require potential buyers to apply for a license directly with a law enforcement agency; and conduct regular compliance inspections.
- Requiring background checks for purchases through licensed and private sellers prevents guns from getting into the wrong hands. More than 3 million firearm purchase applications have been denied since the 1994 Brady Law, which instituted a federal background check requirement for sales through licensed dealers. Evidence from California suggests extending background checks to cover not only licensed but private sellers substantially decreases illegal straw sales in which a purchaser buys a gun for a person who isn’t eligible to buy it.
- Firearm prohibitions for high-risk groups reduce the risk of violent crime. A California study suggests denying handgun purchases to people who have committed violent misdemeanors is associated with a decreased risk of arrest for new gun and/or violent crimes.
- Child access prevention laws save lives. Studies of child access prevention laws requiring gun owners to store guns so children and teens can’t access them unsupervised have found they reduce accidental child shootings as much as 23 percent and adolescent suicides 8 percent.
- Well-designed assault weapons bans reduce homicides, suicides and mass shootings. An Australian law banning and buying back assault weapons—including semi-automatic rifles, pump-action rifles and shotguns—was associated with lower homicide and suicide rates. No mass shootings occurred in the decade following the law’s enactment compared with 11 in the decade before.
5. The majority of American voters, including gun owners, support common sense gun safety regulations. As of August 2019, 60 percent of voters supported stricter gun laws and 93 percent of voters and gun owners supported universal background checks. Three in five voters (60 percent) favored a nationwide ban on assault weapon sales and about 3 in 4 American voters (72 percent) said Congress must do more to reduce gun violence.
The American people want change. Our children are crying for it. Please make sure your lawmakers know and act on the truth about guns. Make sure they have a copy of Protect Children Not Guns 2019 and insist they do something about it.
Marian Wright Edelman is Founder and President Emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.