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June 28, 2022

Gun policy expert weighs in after Senate bill fails

By JACK BARTHOLET | May 2, 2013

On Jan. 14-15, Hopkins held a national summit focused on reducing gun violence following the fatal shooting of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Since the summit, national debates over gun policy have engulfed the country, with studies from the Bloomberg School of Public Health fueling the discussions.

Daniel W. Webster is the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Bloomberg School. He coedited “Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis,” a report produced as a product of the January summit. This report was given to every member of Congress, along with key individuals in the Obama Administration.

Since the summit, Webster has testified before both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives on his work, and his findings have been widely cited on the national stage.

“I testified in both the U.S. Senate and the House, we were consulted by senators and representatives who were working on legislation [and] we provided a lot of the data, both on the effectiveness of universal background checks as well as data on very broad public support for these measures,” Webster said. “Those data, particularly the polling data, have been repeated over and over and over again by a variety of different actors relevant to this legislation.”

These polls show that 91 percent of all Americans support universal background checks for gun owners. Additionally, they revealed that 91 percent of all gun owners, 85 percent of NRA household members and 74 percent of NRA members themselves are supportive of the legislation.

However, Webster pointed to a recent Senate vote on universal background checks that failed to achieve the 60 votes needed to end debate as a cause for concern.

“Obviously the Senate vote recently, where they were unable to get 60 votes to move the legislation to get background checks was a huge disappointment to individuals hoping to reform and strengthen federal gun laws,” Webster said.

Yet Webster also highlighted changes in the nation’s political climate, viewing them as positive signals of support for gun policy reform.

“But we see something that we haven’t seen for a very long time — 15 years or more — and that is politicians who are eager to sponsor bills, politicians who are eager to support those bills and a really intense groundswell of support and activism by the very large majority of Americans who want to strengthen our gun laws to keep guns from very dangerous people,” Webster said.

Webster also pointed to successes in changing state laws to strengthen gun policies.

“While we were hopeful in targeting federal legislation, there have been very successful efforts to strengthen state gun laws. Of course in the State of Maryland, we played a very instrumental role in developing those policies and providing the empirical evidence supporting why they would reduce gun violence,” Webster said.

In addition to Maryland, Webster also pointed to successful efforts to fortify state laws in Colorado, Connecticut, California and other states.

Webster explained that he views background checks as the most important policy objective, while also emphasizing that additional efforts are needed.

“I have to say, the single most important thing we need to do is get a federal law requiring background checks for all gun sales. That remains the single most important thing we can do, and I think it’s politically achievable,” Webster said. “I think that there are also other things that are quite important that could also get done, if again people roll up their sleeves and put in the hard work to move it forward.”

Additional measures that would reduce violence he advocated included granting law enforcement more tools in their efforts to prosecute gun traffickers and augmenting a severely underfunded budget for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Failure to address the issue of gun violence, Webster contended, would have national repercussions, manifesting in two different forms:

“One kind of repercussion is we will fail to protect citizens from gun violence, and we’re going to continue to have ridiculously high rates of homicide and gun violence like we have,” Webster said.

The other form, he argued, is political backlash against politicians who oppose stronger gun laws.

“I think that the conventional wisdom for a very long time has been that all the energy has been on the side of opponents of stronger gun laws, and that basically they were the only group that could hurt you if you didn’t go their way,” Webster said. “And what we’re seeing right now, what’s in the news right now, is there are efforts underway — grassroots efforts— and some that are more political in nature… those organizations have vowed to, in essence, make politicians pay for not following what constituents want in terms of a stronger law with an expanded background check.”

Webster highlighted the divides among urban and rural constituencies, coupled with states’ equal representation in the Senate and the Republicans’ stronghold in the House, make political reforms more difficult. However, he explained that this doesn’t appear unique to guns.

Given the rising involvement of faith-based groups and law enforcement officials in support of stronger gun policies, Webster sees the dynamic of this issue shifting rapidly.

“The more this issue becomes not an anti-gun, pro-gun wrestling match, but one in which diverse groups come together for public safety, I think we’ll see some movement,” Webster said. “It’s more encouraging that it had been.”

 

 

An earlier version of this article had incorrectly stated that Georgia was one of the states that had successfully fortified its gun laws. It should have said California. The article has been updated with the correct information.

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