It has been 7 years since 20 children and 6 adults were killed in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. After the event, President Obama called for action, asking Congress to enact new gun-control legislation that would mandate universal background checks for gun purchases, eliminate the sales of assault weapons and magazines, and focus on the treatment of mental illness. But the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other gun-rights support groups actively campaigned against these changes. Subsequently, the bills introduced into Congress on universal background checks (S. 649) and the assault weapons ban (S. 150) failed. Little has changed in 7 years, and the death tolls continue to rise. In 2017 Arizona had 1,134 firearm deaths, ranking fourth in the nation, on the rise from 927 deaths in 2014 (CDC, 2019).
The Arizona Department of Public Safety currently issues concealed weapons permits at the state level. However, eligibility criteria are lax and, due to Arizona being an open carry state, obtaining a weapons permit is not required to own a firearm. We propose a state licensing program in order to reduce gun violence in Arizona. All gun owners should be required to obtain a firearm permit. Licensing would include a rigorous training program including a classroom-based curriculum focused on firearm safety, Arizona gun laws and a review of gun violence in the U.S. Subsequently, a written exam would need to be passed in order to advance to live range training. Individuals would then learn how to properly handle and shoot firearms followed by a live range qualification exam. Upon successful completion of the program, individuals would qualify to obtain a firearm permit which would be required to purchase or own a gun in Arizona.
According to the CDC (2019), gun deaths have risen gradually in the United States since 2009 and are now as deadly as traffic related deaths. The United States has the highest rate of gun homicide in any developed country, and Americans are 25 times more likely to be a victim of gun homicide than other high income countries (Grinshteyn & Hemenway, 2016). While many policy solutions to reduce gun violence have been formulated, this country and our state remain divided, making passage of any legislation challenging. Requiring all gun owners to be licensed is a sensible solution which can decrease gun violence in our state, akin to requiring a driver’s license to operate a motor vehicle. Necessitating a gun permit to purchase all firearms has been shown to lower gun homicide rates 21% in large cities and 20% in smaller localities (Siegel et al., 2019). In Missouri, repeal of their state permit-to-purchase license law resulted in an increase in annual firearm homicide rates of 23%, again demonstrating the potential effectiveness of licensing laws (Webster, Crifasi & Vernick, 2014).
The right to bear arms is guaranteed in our nation’s Constitution and many, including the NRA, are against new laws or requirements to gun ownership. However, our law enforcement and military are trained extensively on firearm usage, both in the classroom and on the range, before they are allowed to handle and use guns. Civilians should be held to the same requirements. An independent study found that carrying a gun did not realistically provide self-defense unless a user is properly trained in the classroom and on the range (NGVAC, 2015). The NRA (2019) even offers courses to help people learn firearm basics, safety, and improve marksmanship and shooting skills. Required licensure is not meant to reduce Second Amendment rights, but rather ensure that those who own guns are properly trained for their own safety and the public’s.
Arizonans cannot afford to wait to act on the epidemic of gun violence in our state. Since Sandy Hook, there have been a staggering 2,321 mass shootings across the United States (Lopez & Sukumar, 2019). In 2019 alone, Arizona witnessed 6 mass shootings including in Phoenix, Yuma, and Tolleson (GVA, 2019). To enact state-wide firearm licensing and reduce the risks of gun violence in our state, we need everyone to raise their voices. The Arizona legislature will once again assemble on January 13, 2020. Contact your legislators today and ask them to introduce a firearm licensing bill. You can reach your legislator at https://www.azleg.gov/findmylegislator/.
Arizonans should never be faced with a situation like Sandy Hook.
Brian Pimpo, Katrina Garcia, Larissa Yugay, Michelle Dorsey, Stephanie Marsh are Masters of Public Health students at University of Arizona Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.