The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
February 23, 2018

Policymakers, not financial institutions, should act to prevent gun violence

February 23, 2018

On February 14, 17 students and staff members lost their lives during a mass shooting event at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

This incident—according to the Gun Violence Archive, the 30th mass shooting of 2018—has reignited conversations about what we can do to prevent the next tragedy.

Should banks step in to prevent gun sales?

One of the more unusual ideas posited to reduce gun violence is having financial institutions deny purchase of guns as a means of regulation. This solution would decrease the number of weapons purchased legally, but it would not deter people from getting weapons. We would likely see more cash sales and under-the-table transactions and little effect on firearm violence.

In fact, with more unregulated firearms out there, these guns could end up in the wrong hands and lead to even more gun violence. And any perception of gun restrictions can drive demand. Gun sales spiked after President Obama’s election, while gun sales have lagged since President Trump’s election.

Having financial institutions regulate gun purchases is dangerous because it could lead to a slippery slope of having banks make judgment calls on what people should or should not consume. Should banks limit purchases of sweets because of rising diabetes and obesity rates?

What strategies are more likely to work?

If the goal is to reduce gun violence through limiting sales of assault weapons, for example, other solutions have been shown to be effective.

One promising strategy involves restricting the sale of guns to high-risk buyers with a history of violence, such as domestic violence, or other menacing behaviors.

Domestic violence restraining orders (DVROs) prevent people with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions from purchasing firearms. These laws have been shown to lower the likelihood of engaging in violent crime. A similar law, permit-to-purchase handguns, has led to a 40 percent reduction in firearm homicide rates in Connecticut between 1995 and 2005.

Recently, policymakers have looked to gun violence restraining orders (GVROs), which go further than DVROs and give family members, households, and law enforcement the ability to petition the courts to temporarily remove someone’s gun rights. Connecticut and Indiana have enacted GVRO statutes, and a study on Connecticut’s GVROs estimated that for every 10 gun seizures, one suicide was prevented. California, Oregon, and Washington State recently implemented similar laws.

It is too soon to tell what impact GVROs will have on general firearm violence, especially mass shootings, but the evidence on DVROs shows promise.

Mass shooting events are devastating, and we can do more to keep Americans safe. But letting financial institutions deny gun purchases, demonizing gun owners, and banning all weapons will not lower firearm-related injuries and death. We know there are policies that can work. The next step is putting them in place.

A potential buyer tries out a gun from an exhibitor's table during the Nation's Gun Show on November 18, 2016 at Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.


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