This is a time of real progress on gun safety – no thanks to Washington. President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell continue to block vital and popular gun-safety legislation. The House of Representatives this year passed a bill extending background checks to virtually all gun purchases, and it appears poised to pass legislation to allow courts to temporarily take guns from people who are a danger to themselves or others. But gun-safety legislation continues to languish in the Senate. In the states, fortunately, it’s a very different story.
Legislatures across the country have recently passed laws – banning semi-automatic “assault” rifles in Connecticut, for example, and requiring background checks on ammunition sales in California. Yet the problem with these initiatives is obvious: Guns can be moved across state lines. Shooters in Chicago, for instance, might use guns sourced in Indiana or Mississippi, where traffickers can continue to exploit weak laws, regardless of what Illinois might do.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy just took what might be a big step toward addressing this. He signed an executive order that seeks to use his state’s purchasing power to raise safety standards not just in New Jersey, but in other states too. New Jersey spends millions to arm its state police and other law-enforcement authorities. The executive order will require firearm manufacturers and retailers who do business with the state, wherever they’re located, to disclose whether they adhere to New Jersey’s safety standards. The order also empowers state agencies to make adherence to those standards a requirement for companies seeking to sell firearms to New Jersey.
The order is aimed especially at the “bad apple” gun dealers that are responsible for a disproportionate number of guns used in crimes. According to an analysis by the Brady campaign against gun violence, about 5% of gun dealers are responsible for about 90% of the guns recovered from crime investigations. Dealers and manufacturers doing business with the state will have to disclose whether they have adopted policies to ensure public safety, including preventing so-called straw purchases (where the real buyer is hidden) and thefts of firearms and ammunition, and to aid law enforcement in denying criminals access to guns. The state will also require that financial institutions doing business with the state disclose what policies they have in place to ensure that their gun-industry clients don’t facilitate reckless commerce in firearms.
There’s a simpler way to curb gun violence, of course. Congress could enact, and the president could sign, sensible new national laws, and fund research on gun violence to inform future policy. And the president could direct the Justice Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to crack down on rogue gun dealers. Until the Senate and White House are freed from the grip of the gun industry, however, state leaders will have to make progress where they can.
Gov. Murphy has opened a promising new path to saving lives.