6 Ways to Reduce Gun Violence in America
Gun violence in the United States is a public health crisis.
It goes beyond the mass shootings that grab the nation’s attention. Every day, gun violence takes lives from communities
all across the country in the form of suicides, unintentional shootings, and interpersonal conflicts that become fatal due to
easy access to guns.
In this country, an average of 35,000 people are killed with guns every year—96 each day.
Yet this violence is not inevitable. Every other developed nation in the world does a better job of protecting its people from
gun violence. The gun murder rate in the United States is 25 times higher than it is in peer nations; and American
teenagers are 82 times more likely to die from a gun homicide than their international peers.
There is no single, simple solution to reducing gun violence in this country. However, there are a number of common-
sense steps that would be a great place to start—steps that could be taken right now.
• Ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines
• Enable the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence as a public health issue
• Require background checks for all gun sales
• Support local violence prevention and intervention programs
• Disarm all domestic abusers
• Make extreme risk protection orders available in every state
Fact Sheet #1:
Ban Assault Weapons and High-Capacity Ammunition Magazines
What is an assault weapon? Assault weapons are generally defined as semi-automatic firearms that are capable of
accepting a detachable magazine and that have an additional military-style feature, such as a pistol grip, folding stock,
detachable stock, barrel shroud, or threaded barrel.
What is a high-capacity magazine? A high-capacity magazine is generally defined as an ammunition-feeding device
capable of accepting more than 10 rounds.
Assault weapons and high-capacity magazines dramatically increase the lethality of shootings, leading to more people
being shot and more fatalities.
• A review of mass shootings between January 2009 and July 2015 found that 155 percent more people were shot and
47 percent more were killed when assault weapons or large-capacity magazines were used.
These weapons of war are not only used in mass shootings. A 2017 study estimated that, together, assault weapons and
guns equipped with high-capacity magazines account for up to 36 percent of guns used in crime.
Require Background Checks for All Gun Sales
Under current federal law, some individuals are prohibited from buying and possessing guns for reasons such as prior
felony conviction, history of domestic abuse, or involuntary commitment for mental health treatment. Licensed gun dealers
are required to conduct a background check for every gun sale in order to ensure that they are not selling guns to prohibited
However, a substantial gap in the law allows unlicensed sellers—such as private individuals who sell guns online, at gun
shows, or anywhere else—to sell guns without first conducting a background check. This means that prohibited
purchasers can easily evade the law by buying guns through private transactions.
• A 2017 study found that 22 percent of gun owners who obtained their most recent gun within the past two years did so
using a transaction that did not include a background check. The same study also found that 50 percent of gun owners who
acquired their most recent gun through a private sale—rather than from a licensed gun dealer—within the past two years
did so in a transaction that did not include a background check.
Universal background checks are an effective way to help reduce gun violence and gun trafficking.
• When Connecticut implemented a law requiring individuals to obtain a permit and undergo a background check before
buying a handgun, gun-related homicides in the state fell 40 percent. When Missouri repealed a similar law, its gun
homicides rose 25 percent.
• A 2009 study found that intrastate gun trafficking was 48 percent lower in states that required background checks for
private handgun sales.3
So far, 19 states and the District of Columbia have acted to require background checks for all handgun sales.
Enable the CDC to Research Gun Violence as a Public Health Issue
For two decades, as the result of a coordinated attack by the gun lobby, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) has been hamstrung from researching gun violence as a public health crisis.
In 1996, congressional allies of the gun lobby added a rider to the CDC budget that prevented the agency from spending
any funds to “advocate or promote gun control.” At the same time, Congress reduced the funding appropriated to the CDC
by $2.6 million—the exact amount that the CDC spent on gun violence research the previous year. In 2011, a similar rider
was added to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget.
The combination of the rider and a lack of dedicated funding has had a substantial chilling effect on research into gun
• Since the rider was enacted, CDC annual funding for this research has fallen 96 percent.
• From 2004 to 2015—when considered in terms of death rates—of the top 30 causes of death, gun violence was the
The lack of a dedicated public investment in this research has left policymakers willfully ignorant about many aspects of
gun violence in the United States and the most effective interventions to reduce gun deaths.
The original author of this restriction—former Rep. Jay Dickey (R-AR)— publicly changed his mind about the rider that bears
his name and urged Congress to resume public health research on gun violence. More than 100 medical organizations
have called on Congress to restore funding for this research.