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The State Of Current Gun Laws


Could the reaction to the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., actually result in some changes to gun laws? President Trump has come out in favor of arming teachers, banning bump stocks, raising the age to be able to purchase guns and tougher background checks. But what's the status of existing gun regulations? What has changed since Mr. Trump has become president?

We're going to turn now to James Burnett. He's editorial director of The Trace, a nonprofit news organization that reports on guns in America. He joins us from member station WVTF in Charlottesville, Va. Mr. Burnett, thanks for being with us.

JAMES BURNETT: Thanks for having me on, Scott.

SIMON: Let's begin with the idea to raise the age to be able to purchase an assault weapon. What's the law now?

BURNETT: The law now differs whether the gun being purchased is a handgun or what is broadly defined as a long gun. So the law is that if it's a handgun, you need to be 21. But long guns - rifles, shotguns and assault-style rifles included - that's 18. And after Parkland, where the perpetrator was 19 and legally purchased an assault-style rifle, there has been a call to raise that minimum age for assault-style rifles and all long guns.

SIMON: What about arming teachers? What changes to the law would be required?

BURNETT: That gets complex. We do have the Gun-Free School Zones Act, which was signed with the first President Bush. But it allows for some discretion at the state and local level. And some states allow individual districts to set their own policies. And so we at The Trace of reported on districts in Ohio that allow certain designated teachers and other school staff members to access guns. Texas is another state where that happens. So, in fact, there are some states where there are guns in schools accessible to some teachers and staff members.

SIMON: Have there been gun laws that have been rolled back by the Trump administration?

BURNETT: The big picture under Trump is that not much has changed, which is interesting because Trump had such strong backing from the National Rifle Association. And they have two big priorities. One is something called concealed carry reciprocity. And the upshot is that if you have a license to carry a concealed gun in your home state, every other state would have to honor that license and vice versa. That does pass the House in December - not taken up by the Senate.

And the other one is silencers or suppressors - a push to deregulate those devices. And that hasn't gone through. So the big ticket items that the NRA wants the NRA doesn't get. You mentioned at the top there this idea of strengthening background checks. I think it's important to be specific about what's under discussion there. There is bipartisan legislation. And what it would do would provide grants to the states to make sure that all of the records that show that a person is prohibited from owning a gun get into the databases that are scanned during a background check.

SIMON: Mr. Burnett, there's renewed interest on the sale of assault weapons. A ban went into effect in 1994. It expired 10 years later. Based on your reporting, what effect did that ban have?

BURNETT: There is some evidence - and we talk about assault - bans on assault-style weapons. What a lot of public safety experts say is the most meaningful piece of that is a restriction on how large the magazine - the ammunition magazine - that's basically how many rounds the gun can hold at one time, can be fired at one time before you have to reload.

SIMON: Is there, in your mind, compelling evidence that the ban on assault weapons actually succeeded in banning assault weapons or reduced the supply or use of assault weapons and criminal activity?

BURNETT: I think the evidence on that is mixed. There is some evidence that fewer assault-style rifles were used in rampage shootings during that 10-year period. So if your goal is to reduce the use of assault-style rifles in school shootings, mass shootings, other forms of rampage attacks, there's some data or evidence that says yes. But it's a pretty small sample. If you're talking about reducing all forms of gun death and injury, you'd have to look more seriously at handguns because in the sheer quantity, that's the gun used in most shootings.

SIMON: James Burnett, editorial director of The Trace, thanks so much for being with us.

BURNETT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.