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Gun policy researcher the impact of gun law changes from Congress and Supreme Court


In the span of just a few hours, the country took two big steps in different directions on guns last week. On Thursday morning, the Supreme Court struck down a century-old law limiting concealed carry permits in New York. The decision signaled that state and local restrictions around the country might be next. Later in the day, the Senate passed the first major federal gun legislation in three decades. The bill would toughen up background checks for gun buyers between 18 and 21, expand a prohibition on gun purchases by those convicted of domestic abuse and send hundreds of millions of dollars towards mental health and school safety resources. To understand the real-world impact of these changes, we're joined now by Daniel Webster of Johns Hopkins University. His research focuses on policies intended to reduce gun violence. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

DANIEL WEBSTER: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: To start with the action in Congress, Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, is one of the sponsors of the Senate legislation, and he says this bill will save thousands of lives. Is he right?

WEBSTER: Well, I certainly hope so. I definitely think that the overall package will lead to less gun violence and therefore translate into lives saved. How many really will be determined on how these policies get implemented. A lot of this is a spending bill of pumping dollars into localities to address gun violence, and how they actually use those resources will determine their ultimate impact.

SHAPIRO: Which provision do you think is likely to potentially have the biggest impact?

WEBSTER: The things that I'm focused on right now is addressing the so-called dating partner gap in domestic violence misdemeanor prohibitions. We know that domestic violence these days or intimate partner violence is much more likely to involve dating partners than spouses.


WEBSTER: And if you look at the data, that's really where we should be focused, so I'm very pleased to see that gap addressed.

SHAPIRO: Many of the provisions in the legislation seem designed to address mass shootings like the one in Uvalde, Texas. As horrific as those shootings are, they actually make up a small percentage of total gun deaths. Do you think that focus makes sense if we're trying to reduce gun violence around the country?

WEBSTER: Well, certainly mass shootings are important, even though they're small proportionately to the larger problem of gun violence. But I think you're absolutely right that what our country desperately needs is legislation and policymaking that really looks at the totality of gun violence that affects our communities. One thing we did not talk about is that there is $250 million being allocated for community violence intervention programs. I think that definitely will translate into less gun violence in most affected communities.

SHAPIRO: I'm thinking, $250 million, that's, like, not a lot per big city. I'm not sure how far that goes in a country as big as the United States.

WEBSTER: Definitely. That's - you're absolutely correct. And I think it's also important to sort of hold that in contrast to the $750 million that's directed more at the problem of mass shootings. So you can look at those two dollar allocations to see the mismatch of what gun violence looks like in America and what our policymakers are responding to.

SHAPIRO: Even as the Senate was taking this step to limit gun violence, the Supreme Court expanded access to guns. How effective were concealed carry laws like the one in New York that the justices overturned?

WEBSTER: Well, they were effective. This is one of the most studied forms of gun policy. What that research shows is that when states do what the Supreme Court says now they must do, that that translates into more gun violence.

SHAPIRO: Is there any way to look at the totality of these actions by Congress and the Supreme Court and judge what the upshot is, whether it will ultimately lead to more or less gun violence in the United States?

WEBSTER: Well, I wish I had a crystal ball. I don't. But, you know, my gut tells me that long term, we may see more harm than good from what transpired in recent days.

SHAPIRO: That's Daniel Webster, co-director of the Center for Gun Violence Solutions at Johns Hopkins University. Thank you.

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

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Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Kathryn Fox