Policy Memorandum

Policy Memorandum
To: President Obama
cc: Senate Judiciary Committee
cc: Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary
From: Tenzing Lama
Subject: Gun Control Legislation
Date: November 3, 2015
Executive Summary
Millions of Americans have suffered at the hands of dangerous individuals who use guns
to commit horrific acts of violence. As President Obama said following the mass shooting
in Oregon, “The United States of America is the one advanced nation on Earth in which
we do not have sufficient common-sense gun-safety laws - even in the face of repeated
mass killings.”i Most gun owners are responsible and law-abiding, and use their guns
safely, but to better protect our children and our communities from tragic mass shootings
like those in Oregon and Charleston, much more must be done to prevent these tragedies
from becoming normal. This memorandum outlines the startling statistics of gun violence
and how other countries have gun laws that work. It will also explain how the Federal
government can prevent future gun-related shooting by implementing measure to identify
the problem and deter such activities.
Today, in the United States, gun violence is a primary cause of fatalities and continues to
cause and affect us on a daily basis resulting in “more than 30 people [being] shot and
murdered each day.”ii That means, “One in three people in the U.S. know someone who
has been shot.”iii The US is leading producer of guns and one of the countries with
highest number of guns per capita. The United States has more deaths from mass
shooting than any nation at an average of 143 mass shootings with 992 victims.iv From
Columbine to the Charleston, these horrendous shootings have been carried out due to
our negligence to protect the vulnerable. These are not just numbers but people, who are
dying on a daily basis due to gun violence. They are the young boys and girls, mothers
and fathers, Republican and Democrat, all killed due to guns.
Gun legislation has always been a contentious issue that has divided people into two
sides. Guns have been part of our history as baseball has been America’s national past
time. From the revolutionary heroes to the frontiersmen, guns were protection against
foreign armies and Native Americans. Since the early 19th century, there have been no
enemies or foreigners as to speak of, that people have needed defending against.
Government has been slow on this critical issue. Through the years, the government has
introduced legislation but only in small steps due to various political factors. One of the
earliest pieces of legislation was the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934, “imposed a
tax on the making and transfer of firearms defined by the Act, as well as a special
(occupational) tax on persons and entities engaged in the business of importing,
manufacturing, and dealing in NFA firearms.”v Congress recognized they posed a
problem due to their use in significant number of crimes.vi This was in many ways
recognizing the problem and finding a solution to fix the problem that affected everyone
regardless of party affiliations. However, there have been setback to how much can be
done to prevent gun ownership. District of Colombia vs. Heller (2008), the Supreme
Court upheld an individuals right to bear arms while striking down provisions of the
Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975 as unconstitutional.vii
Gun Culture:
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has played a big role in fostering the culture of
guns in America. The NRA was founded in 1871 to ‘promote and encourage rifle
shooting on a scientific basis,’ according to a magazine editorial written by Church.”viii
The NRA has been a vocal support gun rights and used its support to stifle meaningful
gun legislation in Congress. “The NRA has morphed into a front group for the firearms
industry, whose profits are increasingly dependent on the sale of military-bred weapons
like the assault rifles used in the massacres at Newtown and Aurora, Colorado.”ix This
culture of guns has influenced our media and Hollywood. Movies have also played a big
role in propagating this culture of guns. The Wild West and cowboys entered the
collective imagination in the early 19th century as ideals of rugged individualism and
influence generations who flocked to see movies about the Wild West but also aspired to
become one of them. Movie took these individuals and turned them heroes in movies
such as “Stagecoach (1939), Unforgiven (1992), All Quiet on the Western
Front (1930), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Scarface (1932), and Goodfellas (1990).”x All
these films and the violence in video games has left a lasting legacy on the American
psyche and played an important role in influencing the action of some of the perpetrators.
Implementation by other Countries:
Gun control has been implemented in many countries including Australia, where it has
lead to a decrease in the number of mass shooting. Australia is a prime example of how
gun control can be implemented and work. “Firearm suicides have dropped from 2.2 per
100,000 people in 1995 to 0.8 per 100,000 in 2006. Firearm homicides have dropped
from 0.37 per 100,000 people in 1995 to 0.15 per 100,000 people in 2006. These are
drops of 65% and 59%, respectively, and among a population of 20 million individuals,
represent a decline in the number of deaths by firearm suicide of about 300 and in the
number of deaths by firearm homicide of about 40 per year. At the same time, the nonfirearm suicide rate has fallen by 27% and the non-firearm homicide rate by 59%.”xi
Another country with stricter gun control in place is Japan, which has a strict policy
against gun ownership. In 2008, Japan experienced only 11 deaths due guns compared
while the U.S. had over 12 thousand firearm-related homicides.xii Not only does Japan
have strict gun ownership but also stricter measures for the purpose of owning a gun.
These two countries and many more are examples of gun control being implemented and
working to make their respective countries safer.
Policy Options
The United States Federal government has number of proposals to help ameliorate the
issue of gun violence in this country. The options are as listed below:
1. Universal background checks
Requires United States Congress to enact federal law requiring universal background
checks for all gun sales including private sales, and strengthens the background check
system. This is one the options that has been recommended by the president. Background
checks would not only help the states keep guns from the hands of such individuals as
Dylann Roof and Chris Harper-Mercer, deranged individuals with the goal of killing
innocent people. In the current situation, “most states do not require background
checks for firearms purchased at gun shows from private individuals -- federal law only
requires licensed dealers to conduct checks.”xiii Under current federal law, criminal
background checks can only be conducted for guns sold through licensed firearm dealers,
“‘which account for just 60% of all gun sales in the United States. A loophole in the law
allows individuals not ‘engaged in the business’ of selling firearms to sell guns without a
license—and without processing any paperwork.”xiv To strengthen the current
backgrounds checks in place in some of the states and bring it up with to federal law
would require states to share information about mental health issue involving potential
gun purchasers. This wide sharing of information between different states is not
something new. After Sept 11, 2001, the different federal security agencies were set up
share information among themselves to prevent another 9/11 and to prevent another mass
murder and combat the rising gun related violence, states must do the same thing and
share information about potential actors. Universal background checks would not
eliminate all gun shootings, but prove as a deterrent to such atrocities.
2. Ban on Assault gun and reducing the size of magazines
Requiring a ban on assault rifles and reducing the size of magazines. In one study
conducted “more that half of the killers studied in the investigation of 62 mass shootings
over the last three decades possessed” assault rifles, which if banned could have
prevented needless loss of life.xv This new law would ban weapons that would let a
shooter fire a large number of bullets quickly without having to reload and reduce the
size of the magazines. “All semiautomatic rifles that can accept a detachable magazine
and have at least one military feature: pistol grip; forward grip; folding, telescoping, or
detachable stock; grenade launcher or rocket launcher; barrel shroud; or threaded barrel.
All semiautomatic pistols that can accept a detachable magazine and have at least one
military feature: threaded barrel; second pistol grip; barrel shroud; capacity to accept a
detachable magazine at some location outside of the pistol grip; or semiautomatic version
of an automatic firearm. All semiautomatic rifles and handguns that have a fixed
magazine with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds. All semiautomatic shotguns
that have a folding, telescoping, or detachable stock; pistol grip; fixed magazine with the
capacity to accept more than 5 rounds; ability to accept a detachable magazine; forward
grip; grenade launcher or rocket launcher; or shotgun with a revolving cylinder.”xvi
This law would exclude “Any firearm manually operated by a bolt, pump, lever or slide
action; assault weapons used by military, law enforcement, and retired law enforcement
and antique weapons.”xvii This policy option would re-instate the 1994 Assault Weapons
Ban, which was signed by Bill Clinton but was let to expire in 2004. The ban came into
effect due to the horrible 101 California shooting in which the gunmen “killed eight
people and wounded six others.”xviii The Ban saw a drop of ‘-10.3%’ in gun related
violence in ‘38 States’ and in Virginia, ‘the number of guns with high-capacity
magazines seized by Virginia police dropped during a decade-long federal prohibition on
assault weapons, but the rate has rebounded sharply since the ban was lifted in late 2004,
according to a Washington Post analysis.’”xix
3. Gun buyback and the necessary checks for ownership of guns
Implementing a gun buyback and “a ban on certain semiautomatic and self-loading rifles
and shotguns, standard licensing and permit criteria, storage requirements and
inspections, and greater restrictions on the sale of firearms and ammunition.”xx Working
on the Australian model, a federal ban would be implemented on “’all semi-automatic
self-loading and pump long arm. The sale, resale, transfer, ownership, manufacture, and
use of such firearms would also be banned by the states, other than in exceptional
circumstances (relating to military or law enforcement purposes and occupational
categories, depending on the category of the firearm).”xxi A permit needed for the
registration of every firearm purchased into a national database and a thirty-day waiting
period for the permits. The permits would be valid for a certain period after which the
individual would renew that permit. Also a restriction would be placed on the quantity of
ammunition that can be purchased for a given period to be decided by the states, and a
requirement for the dealers to sell that ammunition to a licensed gun owner. The gun
owner would need to notify the state or the agency in charge of any change to his address
or transfer of ownership or would face a fine or prison (if sold to an unlicensed
individual) to be determined by the state. The gun buyback would be implemented by the
states and the federal government would compensate the individuals within a set time
period determined by the federal government and coordinated with state and local
counties/district. Guns of a certain category would be able for the buyback program, as
not all guns would be banned by this policy. Guns would be purchased at the market rate
to ensure that it is well received and individuals have an incentive to turn in their guns.
Considering the political climate at the moment in this country, implementing a ban on
assault rifles and gun buyback is not a feasible option because the opposition would view
it as an infringement on the second amendment. The option that is most feasible at the
moment is a universal background checks and the strengthening of the current system in
place. The current system, which is the National Instant Criminal Background Check
System (NICBCS), which has been implemented in many of the states only checks for
criminal background but statistics has shown that the majority of the perpetrators are
individuals with mental health problems. Now this bring up a problem as to what is
considered a mental health problem and I would recommend the committee to consult the
medical profession as to the proper definition of mental health as politicians are not
familiar with the medical field. In my humble opinion, mental health would be
psychological in terms of depression and other such illness. Two of the panel member
mentioned in their responses that such a universal checks would violate the HIPAA,
which the confidentiality agreement between a doctor and their patients. This is an
understandable argument but when this country faces a mass shooting on a daily bases,
the government must do more to prevent individuals from hurting themselves and others
and not think of doctor patient confidentiality. The background checks would not violate
any rights but identify potential individuals to law enforcement. Another of the big
problem is identifying the loopholes in the system. With a universal background checks
on individuals purchasing guns, it would eliminate the different standards of checks that
exist among the states and prevent loopholes that exist such as at gun shows.
As this policy is being implemented, even though gun buyback on a large scale is not
feasible, states and local officials should take the initiative to implement gun buyback,
which even though it would not eliminate the problem, would serve as a deterrent and a
productive measure to get rid of guns from the streets. Initiatives were taken following
mass shooting such as the one in Sandy Hook by cities across the country and what is
being proposed is not radical. As political attitudes shift due to the increase in mass
shooting, I do hope that more stringent policies are implemented to reduce the number of
casualties but also prevent such heinous crimes.
All Americans must do their part to affect the debate on gun control because none of
these problems can be solved by policies alone. Gun violence is a serious epidemic that
must change so that lives and communities are not lost to the rages of mentally unstable
people who need help. Gun owners too have a responsibility to make sure their guns are
safely stored and used for other purpose then hunting or sport. These policy options
would help but not eliminate gun violence and that must come from changing our
mentality towards guns. Serious consideration to these policy initiatives would help
reduce gun related violence and to the President and members of the Senate judiciary
committee, the facts are clear and the time to act on passing meaningful gun legislation is
now before another person becomes just another number.
Obama, Barack.
ii "USA Gun Violence Statistics."
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