Tonight, President Obama will deliver his final State of the Union address and it’s likely that guns, gun violence, and the president’s recommendations for action will be a key part of the speech. While the president has already taken executive action on these issues, it’s clear that funding his proposals, as well as more extensive action, will require congressional approval. Getting such support will be an uphill battle if initial reactions from congressional leaders are any indication.
This gridlock does a disservice to a pressing issue that kills and injures of thousands of Americans yearly. There are real opportunities for bipartisan legislation that can reduce gun violence while respecting the rights of responsible owners. In the spirit of a more productive 2016 congressional session, here are three bipartisan ideas for gun violence prevention:
Fund training on domestic violence restraining orders (DVROs)
DVROs prohibit people accused of domestic violence from purchasing or owning firearms while the order is in effect. These laws are the rare policy that is both bipartisan, with support from Republican Governors like Scott Walker (WI) to Democratic Governors like Mark Dayton (MN), and effective, with strong research showing that they prevent intimate partner homicides. However, for these laws to work, they have to be used, and recent research has suggested that judges are not always making the most of these tools. Congress can help states make the most of these laws by funding training for judges on how to use and maximize the impact of these vitally important tools.
Support better research and data collection
How many people in the United States own guns? How many guns do they own? How many guns are stolen every year? Do universal background checks reduce homicides or firearm assault injuries?
These aren’t ivory tower questions—these are fundamental questions and we have no current, rigorous, consistent research that can answer them. Researchers can tell you how many guns were stolen … in 1997, and can tell you (roughly) how many guns were circulating in the country … in 2009.
This lack of data makes it difficult to develop policies that might bridge the bipartisan gap. Imagine trying to make a decision with a friend or spouse about investing shared assets if the only information companies gave you was an interview with the CEO in 1987, a corporate prospectus from 2003, and a quarterly earnings report from spring 2012. How can you make smart choices or work together on new ideas with out-of-date information?
While President Obama has taken some action to increase the resources available for studying gun violence, a commitment from Congress would provide durable, long-term support for research and innovation. For example, if we knew more about the sources of crime guns, we could target strategies to cut off those pipelines in ways that are least invasive to lawful firearm owners. If this comes off as overly optimistic about the potential of research, it’s only because research has a really good track record of identifying effective programs.
Fund evidence-based violence prevention
Did you know that there are programs in the United States that have consistently reduced violence without focusing on gun controls or restrictions?
Ceasefire, deployed by the National Network for Safe Communities, uses a combination of community moral authority and focused deterrence with swift, certain, and fair sanctions for people at high risk of committing violent acts. The evidence base for Ceasefire is even more extensive, with strong data that focused deterrence and other Ceasefire strategies reduce violence. Neither requires policies that would affect a single, legal gun owner.
Calls to fund these types of programs are not new. In November of last year, Pastor Michael McBride made an impassioned plea for more support for these types of programs. If Congress is serious about preventing gun violence while respecting the rights of legal gun owners, funding these programs offers a way to make good on that promise.
Gun violence prevention does not have to be the third rail of politics and it does not have to be a zero-sum game where one party’s victory is the other’s defeat. Tonight’s State of the Union is a perfect opportunity to explore these bipartisan strategies and lay out a fresh vision for violence prevention.