This summer’s wave of high-profile shootings has sparked renewed interested in gun reform in the United States. “Congress should finally pass more common-sense gun limits that would make it harder to skirt the system,” the Washington Post editorial board wrote after nine lives were ended in a Charleston church; the Waco Tribune, arguing for the other side, urged a full hearing for National Rifle Association-backed Senate legislation that would incentivize expanded pyschiatric care and state-level mental health records reporting to the federal background check system while making it easier for ex-patients to have their gun rights restored. Even a celebrated military hero chimed in, after a gunman opened fire in a Louisiana movie theater in July: “At some point the politicians have to get down into the community and find some answers to this problem,” retired U.S. Army General Russel Honore wrote. And today, lead by Andy Parker, the grieving father of slain WDBJ journalist Allison Parker, thousands of activists and political leaders will gather in Washington, D.C., to demand an end to the bloodshed.
Spoiler alert: Change isn’t likely to come from the 114th Congress. Lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill this week from a month-long recess to a hulking pile of gun-related legislation, a collection that does not include some of the year’s more high-profile proposals, like New York Senator Charles Schumer’s background check bill, announced to much fanfare with this celebrity cousin, Amy, but still not formally introduced. What’s missing is the political conditions for their passage. The Republican majority the controls both houses — a darker shade of red than in 2013, when the Manchin–Toomey background check amendment was defeated — looks unlikely to budge on any bills that would create new safety mandates for gun owners and sellers or broaden enforcement powers. President Barack Obama, for his part, is unlikely to sign into law any measures that would loosen existing restrictions.
But the lack of progress on the federal level should not be confused with a lack of proposed solutions to America’s gun violence epidemic. There are plenty of those, on both sides of the table. There are bills on cutting off terrorists’ access to firearms and explosives, patching the FBI’s background check records database, cracking down on cross-border gun trafficking, and protecting victims of stalking and domestic violence, as well as bills that would allow easier importation of antique guns, prevent enforcement of new gun restrictions, and many that would arm service members on military facilities.
In all, advocacy groups say there are at least 98 active, gun-related pieces of legislation that could be considered — more than ample fodder for a fittingly sweeping legislative debate, if lawmakers actually wanted to have one. As the legislative cycle fires up again, here’s a warp-speed tour of the bills already on file, and broadly speaking, what they would do.
Patching or expanding the federal background check system
A number of bills address the loophole that let Dylann Roof get his hands on a gun, and a smattering of variations on the theme of “encourage states to complete background check records reporting, and punish them if they don’t.” One bipartisan House proposal, a kind of lower-chamber Manchin-Toomey, would extend background checks to all commercial sales, including those at gun shows and transactions facilitated over the internet.
Keeping Guns from High Risk Individuals Act (Rep. Robin Kelly D-Illinois), Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act (Rep. Peter King, R-New York and Rep. Mike Thompson, D-California), Firearm Risk Protection Act (Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York), Background Check Completion Act (Rep. James Clyburn, D-South Carolina), HR3375 (Rep. Nita Lowey, D-New York), Fix Gun Checks Act (Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California), Safe and Responsible Gun Transfer Act (Rep. Theodore Deutch, D-Florida)
Keeping guns away from dangerous people
Many of these acts mirror prohibitions against domestic abusers and stalkers owning guns that have been pioneered by states like California and Connecticut, while others would bar firearms sales to suspected terror plotters or terrorist supporters.
Pause for Safety Act (Rep. Lois Capps, D-California), Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act (Rep. Peter King, R-New York and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California), Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act (Rep. Lois Capps, D-California and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota), Gun Show Loophole Closing Act (Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York), Keeping Guns From Criminals Act (Rep. Donald Beyer, D-Virginia), Zero Tolerance for Domestic Abusers Act (Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan), Lori Feinstein Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act (Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut), Gun Violence Intervention Act (Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California)
Improving mental health reporting
While research suggests the mentally ill do not present a grave threat of violence to others, questions about the state of mind of the summer’s mass shooters lead members of Congress to take action. Texas Senator John Cornyn’s bill has attracted the most attention, coming with endorsements from both the NRA and various mental health professionals’ organizations.
End Purchase of Firearms By Dangerous Individuals Act (Rep. David Cicilline, D-Rhode Island), Safer Communities Act (Rep. Mike Thompson, D-California and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut), Mental Health and Safe Communities Act (Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas)
ATF and law enforcement reform
These bills cover how the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives enforces the law and determines who can sell guns — some would create new powers to crack down on trafficking and “bad apple” dealers, while others would curb perceived ATF overreaching.
Border Security, Cooperation, and Act Now Drug War Prevention Act (Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas); Buyback Our Safety Act (Rep. Theodore Deutch, D-Florida), ATF Elimination Act (Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin), Firearms Manufacturers and Dealers Protection Act (Rep. David Schweikert, R-Arizona), Tiahrt Restrictions Repeal Act (Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California), Fire Sale Loophole Closing Act (Rep. David Cicilline, D-Rhode Island), FIREARM Act (Diane Black, R-Tennessee and Sen. Roy Blount, R-Missouri), Support Assault Firearms Elimination and Reduction for our Streets Act (Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut), Crime Gun Tracing Act (Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Illinois), Detectives Nemorin, Andrews and Moore Anti-Gun Trafficking Act (Rep. Peter King, R-New York), Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act (Rep. Steve Israel, D-New York), Fairness in Firearm Testing Act (Rep. Jody Hice, R-Georgia), Airport Security Act (Rep. Henry Johnson, D-Georgia), Enforce Existing Gun Laws Act (Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York), Accidental Firearms Transfers Reporting Act (Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas), Trafficking Reduction and Criminal Enforcement Act (Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Illinois), Crime Gun Tracing Act (Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois), Hadiya Pendleton and Nyasia Pryear-Yard Gun Trafficking and Crime Prevention Act (Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York), Responsible Transfer of Firearms Act (Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia)
Funding for target shooting
Perhaps quaint, perhaps pork, this one bill provides funds for more target shooting ranges on public lands.
Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act (Sen. Michael Bennett, D-Colorado)
Manufacturing and technology
Some of the most controversial pieces of legislation in this category would try to tackle the growth of 3-D printed guns and high capacity ammunition “feeding devices and the status of so-called “armor piercing” rounds;” another would require all handguns to eventually be equipped with smart-gun safety technology.
Home Assembled Firearm Restriction Act (Rep. Michael Honda, D-California), Homemade Firearms Accountability (Rep. Michael Honda, D-California), Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device (Rep. Elizabeth Etsy, D-Connecticut and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey), Armor Piercing Bullets Act (Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York), Modernized Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act (Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California), Gun Look-Alike Case Act (Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York), Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act (Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida), Look-Alike Weapons Safety Act (Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California), Handgun Trigger Safety Act of 2015 (Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts)
Licensing pistol buyers
A House and Senate version of the same bill, which would make grants to states to facilitate handgun purchaser license programs, which are more stringent than the federal vetting process and have been shown to reduce shootings.
Handgun Purchasing Licensing Act (Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland; introduced in Senate by Sen. Mark Blumenthal, D-Connecticut)
Encouraging more secure gun storage
Safe storage and gun lock mandates for homes and vehicles may sound pedestrian as means of reducing gun violence, but the approach has recently attracted newfound interest from policymakers in places like Los Angeles.
A bill to ensure secure gun storage and gun safety devices (Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas), a bill to amend chapter 44 of title 18, United States Code, to more comprehensively address the interstate transportation of firearms or ammunition (Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Virginia), Firearm Safety Act (Rep. Kelly Robin, D-Illinois)
Loosening gun restrictions
It’s no surprise that with NRA-friendly Republicans in command of both houses, the largest portion of the bills submitted to Congress dealing with firearms would do things like make it easier to carry a gun between states or onto college campuses or military bases.
Safe Students Act (Rep Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky), National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act (Rep. Richard Nugent, R-Florida), Constitutional Carry Reciprocity Act (Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Indiana and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas), Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act (Rep. Richard Hudson, R-North Carolina), To modify the definition of “antique firearm” (Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-Louisiana and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana), Protecting 2nd Amendment Rights Act (Rep. Thomas Rooney, R-Florida), Veterans’ Heritage Firearms Act (Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas), Ammunition and Firearms Protection Act (Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-North Carolina), Protecting Gun Owners In Bankruptcy Act (Rep. Chris Collins, R-New York), Second Amendment Enforcement Act (Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida), Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act (Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida), ATF Wrongful Reclassification Act (Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pennsylvania), Firearms Interstate Commerce Reform Act (Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana and Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana), Protect Our Military Families’ 2nd Amendment Act (Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Virginia and Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota), Collectible Firearms Protection Act (Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyoming), Lawful Purpose and Self Defense Act (Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah), Enhancing Safety At Military Installations Act (Rep. Scott Desjarlais, R-Tennessee), Military Recruiter Right to Carry Act (Rep. Jody Hice, R-Georgia), SEMPER FI Act (Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California and Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana), Military Base Self Defense Act (Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pennsylvania), Protecting America’s Warriors Act (Rep. Steve Russell, R-Oklahoma), FREE Act (Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas), Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act (Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska), S1308 (Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana), Arm All Pilots Act (Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky), A bill to require a process by which members of the Armed Forces may carry a concealed personal firearm on a military installation (Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada), Armed Forces Self Defense Act (Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin), A bill to safeguard military personnel on Armed Forces military installations by repealing bans on military personnel carrying firearms, and for other purposes (Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas), Servicemembers’ Self-Defense Act (Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky)
Boosting gun-related public health research
For nearly two decades, there have been strict limits on how the government can research the impact and cause of gun violence. These bills seek to begin to fill in the gaps of knowledge on the subject. But since the very notion of treating gun violence as a public health matter raises some hackles among pro-gun activists, even bills that seek nothing more than accurate, thorough data on the subject will almost certainly prove a futile endeavor in this Congress.
A bill to require the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service to submit to Congress an annual report on the effects of gun violence on public health (Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Illinois), National Statistics on Deadly Force Transparency Act of 2015 (Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee), a bill to authorize the appropriation of funds to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for conducting or supporting research on firearms safety or gun violence prevention (Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York)
[Photo: Flickr user: Bill Dickinson]