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Tragedy after tragedy has drawn the nation’s attention towards gun violence. Yet the murder of 20 school children in Newtown, CT has done more to drive the national dialogue on gun control than any preceding mass shooting, not to mention the endemic murderous violence that plagues city streets day in and out. President Obama has responded by calling on Congress to (1) close background check loopholes; (2) ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; and (3) improve mental health services. All of these measures are necessary to curb gun violence. Yet, in a nation with more firearms per capita than anywhere in the world, they are not sufficient.

Violence is depicted and even glorified in the media; law enforcement lacks the ability to track stolen or illegally traded arms; and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System is vastly deficient (and not always consulted before a sale). The public health threat of firearms—whether through inner-city violence, mass murders, suicides, or inadvertent firearm discharges—is tremendous, and reasonable firearm restrictions are both critical and in high public demand. Yet Congress has stalled comprehensive gun safety legislation for years (e.g., mandatory trigger locks, fingerprint and tracking technology, training requirements, limits on mass sales). Moreover, President Obama’s renewed call for change does not touch on these strategies. In short, federal, state, and city officials lack the basic tools needed to detect, prevent, and punish firearm related crime. Before Newtown becomes another sound bite, it must inspire the greatest bipartisan courage to at least stem the mass shootings and street killings that our newly found individual right to bear arms has made so prevalent.

Publication Citation

Katherine L. Record, Lawrence O. Gostin, A Systematic Plan for Firearms Law Reform, JAMA Online (February 7, 2013),