Ideas to Reduce Gun Violence in America

*** NOTE This is a working draft, being assembled in public. ***

This page addresses small-scale gun violence. Mass shootings are addressed at the mass shooting page.

I update this page with pro/con information on each idea. To contribute material please leave a comment at the bottom, or contact me.

To a less deadly future,
[Jason signature]


Idea List

Buy Back Guns — Shooters can still obtain them.
Expand Background Checks — We already have them.

Conclusion — We’re in a world of hurt.


Buy Back Guns


Start a gun buyback program, similar to the one Australia launched after the April 1996 Port Arthur massacre, in which a mass shooter killed 35 people.


Placates public fear. Would appeal to poor communities, where most gun violence occurs. Would remove some guns from circulation.


Determined killers could still obtain guns.

Pending Legislation



Vox 25 May 2022:

Between October 1996 and September 1997, Australia responded to its own gun violence problem with a solution that was both straightforward and severe: It collected roughly 650,000 privately held guns [about 20 percent of all privately owned guns in Australia]. It was one of the largest mandatory gun buyback programs in recent history. …

The so-called National Firearms Agreement (NFA), drafted the month after the [Port Arthur] shooting, sharply restricted legal ownership of firearms in Australia. It also established a registry of all guns owned in the country, among other measures, and required a permit for all new firearm purchases.

One of the most significant provisions of the NFA was a flat-out ban on certain kinds of guns, such as automatic and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. But there were already a number of such guns in circulation in Australia, and the NFA required getting them off the streets.

Australia solved this problem by introducing a mandatory buyback: Australia’s states would take away all guns that had just been declared illegal. In exchange, they’d pay the guns’ owners a fair price, set by a national committee using market value as a benchmark, to compensate for the loss of their property. The NFA also offered legal amnesty for anyone who handed in illegally owned guns, though they weren’t compensated. …

A 2018 study found that in the 18 years before Port Arthur, Australia experienced 13 mass shootings—defined as incidents in which five or more people died. In the years since, the country suffered one such incident (there was also a shooting in 2019 that killed four).


Harvard Bulletins (firearms research) Spring 2011

While 13 gun massacres (the killing of 4 or more people at one time) occurred in Australia in the 18 years before the NFA, resulting in more than one hundred deaths, in the 14 following years (and up to the present), there were no gun massacres. …

Additional evidence strongly suggests that the buyback causally reduced firearm deaths. First, the drop in firearm deaths was largest among the type of firearms most affected by the buyback. Second, firearm deaths in states with higher buyback rates per capita fell proportionately more than in states with lower buyback rates.

[However:] It does not appear that the Australian experience with gun buybacks is fully replicable in the United States[, for three reasons]: (a) the buybacks are relatively small in scale (b) guns are surrendered voluntarily, and so are not like the ones used in crime; and (c) replacement guns are easy to obtain. These factors did not apply to the Australian buyback, which was large, compulsory, and the guns on this island nation could not easily be replaced.


US Department of Justice August 2008

Although gun buybacks appear to be a logical and sensible policy that helps to placate the public’s fears, the evidence so far suggests that in the Australian context, the high expenditure incurred to fund the 1996 gun buyback has not translated into any tangible reductions in terms of firearms deaths. …

[Links to an August 2008 Melbourne Institute Working Paper, “The Australian Firearms Buyback and Its Effect on Gun Deaths,” from which:] Using a battery of structural break tests, there is little evidence to suggest that it had any significant effects on firearm homicides and suicides. In addition, there also does not appear to be any substitution effects—that reduced access to firearms may have led those bent on committing homicide or suicide to use alternative methods.


Eliza­beth Bruenig, columnist at The Atlantic, on KCRW’s Left, Right & Center, 5/27/22 show, 20:03-20:57 in the audio

We need to get guns out of circulation and stop adding guns to circulation. It’s very simple. The most obvious solution to at least start out with is buybacks. I don’t know why Democrats aren’t spending more time with that. We have plenty of money. We’re a rich nation. We’re also a very unequal nation. A lot of gun crime takes place among poor people. These are people who could use some money. People who are poor are more likely to be victimized by violent crime, so this is of special importance to these communities. So why not just set up a buyback  program? Everything’s going to sell at some price. Buy them back. Melt them down. Throw them into a volcano. Who cares? Remove them from circulation and stop adding them into circulation.


Expand Background Checks


Run a background check on everybody who wants to buy a gun from a licensed dealer. If anything questionable surfaces, cancel the sale and report the person to authorities.


Seems the least we can do before handing over a gun and ammo. Might catch a rare shooter who exposes his questionable background to a check. More than a fifth of firearm transfers happen without a background check, showing room for improvement.


We already run background checks on almost 80 percent of firearm purchases. They didn’t prevent recent mass shootings. Evidence of their effectiveness is inconclusive.

Pending Legislation

Two gun bills, H.R. 8 and H.R. 1446, have been passed in the House but not in the Senate.

USA Today 26 May 2022:

H.R. 8, or The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021, would expand background checks on individuals seeking to purchase or transfer firearms—including for private individuals and groups, closing the “Gun Show Loophole.” …

H.R. 1446 would close the “Charleston Loophole,” a gap in federal law that lets gun sales proceed without a completed background check if three businesses days have passed. The legislation would extend the initial background check review period to 10 business days—and, if that period elapsed, require the purchaser to ask the FBI to complete its investigation before receiving authorization.

[Note: H.R. 1446 is linked to the 17 June 2015 Charleston church shooting, which killed nine parishioners during a Bible study. The shooter obtained firearms through the loophole.]



Rand 22 April 2022:

We identified three studies examining the effects of background check policies on mass shootings in the United States. …

Given how rare these outcomes are—there was an average of 14 school shootings and 15 injuries from school shootings per year across the United States—it is not surprising that the author [of one of the studies] found only an uncertain relationship between state background check laws and the number of casualties from school shootings. …

[In another study], the authors’ estimates most likely reflect differences between states that have the laws and states that do not rather than differences within a state before and after the law was passed. Thus, this study is not likely to provide valid insights into the causal effects of background check laws on school shootings. …

We identified two qualifying studies that estimated the effects of background checks on mass shootings or school shootings. One study estimated how background checks for all handgun sales and for all firearm sales affect mass shootings and found uncertain effects of these universal background check laws on whether at least one mass shooting occurred in a state (Luca, Malhotra, and Poliquin, 2016). Another study found uncertain effects of background checks for private sales on school shooting casualties (Gius, 2018). Considering the methodological limitations in both studies, we consider there to be inconclusive evidence for the effect of background checks on mass shootings. 27 September 2018

Garen Wintemute, an emergency medicine physician at the University of California (UC), Davis, Medical Center, and the director of UC Davis’s Violence Prevention Research Program, has studied gun violence for more than 30 years and is one of the few researchers to approach the matter as an issue of public health. …

Q: The first way you say we can stop mass shootings is through better background checks. How do we improve them?

A: Twenty-two percent of all firearm transfers in the country do not involve a background check. These take place over the internet, at gun shows, or a brokered through “friend of a friend” exchanges. Some states require a background check for all transfers of firearms, but most states do not, and the federal government does not. Comprehensive, well-designed background checks, as well as regular reporting by agencies of incidents that would prohibit someone from purchasing a gun would let us see the full effectiveness of this policy.


New England Journal of Medicine 27 September 2018

[Opinion piece by the aforementioned Garen Wintemute.]

Background-check policies work at the population level to prevent firearm purchases by felons, people convicted of certain violent misdemeanors, and others who are at increased risk for violent behavior (specifics vary from state to state). Using background checks to prevent such persons from acquiring firearms is associated with a reduction of at least 25% in their incidence of arrest for a firearm-related or other violent crime.

In many states, however, transactions between private parties are exempt from background-check requirements, and 22% of all firearm transfers nationwide proceed without a check being done. …

Recent research suggests that background-check policies, as commonly designed and implemented, fall short of their expected effectiveness when it comes to reducing population-level rates of violence. But the findings do not support a conclusion that background-check requirements are fundamentally ineffective. Rather, they highlight the consequences — such as the breakdowns in communication and reporting that led up to the Sutherland Springs shooting—of specific and widespread defects in design and implementation, which have been well documented for decades and which can be overcome.

Perhaps most important is that information that would prohibit high-risk people from purchasing firearms is frequently—many thousands of times per year—not reported. The Air Force alone has apparently failed to report tens of thousands of prohibiting events, and its reporting has been the best among all branches of the military. Remarkably, other than for federal agencies, reporting of such events is not required.

Other substantial built-in barriers exist. Classes of people who are prohibited from purchasing firearms are defined vaguely and anachronistically under US law; “adjudicated as a mental defective or…committed to a mental institution” and “unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance” are good examples. Not surprisingly, there can be serious ambiguity about whether a specific event is in fact prohibiting.


Time 10 August 2019

TIME’s examination of the deadliest recent mass shootings showed it was difficult to point to cases where more expansive background checks would have saved lives. Many of the people who perpetrated these mass shootings passed background checks. Some, including the man who killed 12 at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., in 2012 or the shooter who killed 22 at a El Paso, Texas, Walmart on Saturday, passed because they did not have a significant criminal record. Others, like the shooter who killed 9 in Dayton, Ohio, on Sunday, had juvenile charges that were expunged. And several, including the 2012 Sandy Hook, Conn., did not face background checks because they obtained their weapons through friends or family.

[Note: The shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on 24 May 2022, which killed 21 people, was perpetrated by an 18-year-old who legally purchased a pair of semiautomatic rifles. There was nothing for a background check to catch.]


ABCNews 8 November 2021

Under federal law, unlicensed sellers—such as gun shows or private sales—aren’t required to perform background checks. Fourteen states and Washington, DC, have laws closing this loophole, according to Giffords Law Center, but a majority do not.

Under the concept of universal background checks, the idea is that no matter where someone buys a gun—at a store, a gun show or through a friend or online—they would have to go through a background check via a nationwide database. …

But there’s mixed data on whether universal background checks are effective—especially if implemented without other gun safety measures.

Conversations about gun violence—and the ineffectiveness of gun laws—often reference Chicago, where there are restrictive regulations but a significant level of violence. Many people committing crimes with guns, some argue, obtain firearms illegally, so universal background checks wouldn’t make a difference.

According to the Department of Justice’s 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates, 43% of people who used a gun in a crime obtained the firearm off the street or in the underground market, 25% got it from an individual, either from a friend or family member or as a gift, 10% purchased the firearm at a retail source like a gun store or pawn shop, 6% stole it and 17% obtained it in some “other” way such as finding it at the scene or the gun was brought by someone else. …

According to a 2017 report from the City of Chicago, 60% of guns that are recovered after being used in crimes come from out of state, especially from Indiana.

Guns that are trafficked between states nearly always originate from states without strong background check laws,” Rob Wilcox, the federal legal director for Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit gun control advocacy organization, told ABC News.



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