June 13, 2019

Van Hollen, Raskin Lead Introduction of Handgun Purchaser Licensing Act

Today U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen and Congressman Jamie Raskin (both D-Md.) announced the introduction of the Handgun Purchaser Licensing Act, along with Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and Congresswoman Jahana Hayes (all D-Conn.). The bill creates a federal grant program to incentivize state and local governments to enact laws requiring individuals to obtain a license before purchasing a handgun – which have been statistically proven to be effective in reducing firearm homicides and keeping guns out of the hands of prohibited individuals. It comes as the John Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research released a new white paper detailing the effectiveness of handgun licensing – including fingerprinting and in-person applications – in reducing gun violence.

This new grant program would be structured so that to qualify, a state’s permit-to-purchase (PTP) law must require the individual applying for the license is at least 21 years old and go through a law enforcement agency. Applicants would be required to provide fingerprints and photographs to law enforcement, as well as undergo a background check, before receiving the purchasing license.

“Every single day, gun violence tears at the fabric of our families and our communities. And of the thousands of Americans murdered every year by firearms, over 90 percent of those deaths occur with a handgun. Permit-to-purchase laws have been proven to change that, and we should be doing everything we can to encourage states to put these programs in place,” said Senator Van Hollen, who first introduced this legislation in 2015. “States require licenses to drive a car in order to protect public safety – requiring a license to buy a handgun should be a no-brainer.”

“Handgun licensing saves lives for the same reason drivers’ licensing saves lives,” said Congressman Raskin. “It takes the dangerous people out of our way as much as possible. That’s why I’m happy to introduce this legislation in the House with Congresswoman Jahana Hayes and to work alongside my Maryland colleague Senator Chris Van Hollen as he pushes this bill in the Senate. When I was in the Maryland State Senate, I worked to pass one of the most comprehensive gun safety laws in the nation, and Maryland now has some of the nation’s best firearm safety laws, including stringent licensing requirements for all handgun purchasers. Since I came to Congress, I’ve been working to bring our best state innovations to the federal level. The Handgun Purchaser Licensing Act will strengthen the federal-state partnership as we advance commonsense gun safety reform.”

“The evidence is clear: sensible handgun laws save lives. All states require licenses to drive a car or hunt or fish – so why not handguns, which can kill? Requiring a license to purchase a deadly weapon is at least as important as requiring one to drive a car. A bill as basic as encouraging states to adopt responsible handgun licensing should win broad, bipartisan support,” said Senator Blumenthal.

“The evidence is clear. When Connecticut passed a permit-to-purchase law we saw gun homicides go down by 40 percent. That’s an astounding number. Our state is working tirelessly to reduce gun violence and save lives,” said Senator Murphy. “This bill helps to reduce violence by encouraging states to keep guns out of the hands of criminals or people who fail a background check. It’s time for Congress to listen to the vast majority of the American public who want action on commonsense gun violence prevention.”  

“It is often said that states are the laboratories of democracy. This is a perfect example of that idea. We know Connecticut’s permit-to-purchase law has saved lives and we need to replicate it on the federal level to bring this commonsense approach to the rest of the country,” said Congresswoman Hayes.

Maryland and Connecticut are among the 9 states that currently have PTP laws on the books. Using mortality data from the Center for Disease Control, a 2015 study by Johns Hopkins University determined that when comparing to similar states with no PTP laws, Connecticut’s PTP law reduced firearm homicides by 40 percent. In 2007, Missouri repealed its requirement that handgun purchasers obtain a PTP and statistics show their state’s gun homicide rate rose by 25 percent.

“Permit-to-purchase systems are already saving lives where they have been enacted,” said Lindsay Nichols, Federal Policy Director at Giffords. “We know these laws are effective. Congress should encourage states to establish systems of their own that can better stop a dangerous individual from obtaining a handgun to harm others. We applaud Senator Van Hollen and Representative Raskin for introducing this legislation and urge Congress to move swiftly so we can better protect more communities around the country from gunfire.” 

“The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence would like to thank Senator Van Hollen and Congressman Raskin for introducing the Handgun Purchaser Licensing Act of 2019. This bill creates a grant program for states to implement and improve handgun purchaser licensing programs. The research and data show that handgun licensing has proven to be incredibly effective in reducing firearm deaths and injuries. State legislatures across the nation should support licensing as an invaluable tool to save lives,” said Executive Director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence Josh Horwitz. “Recent polling shows that 77 percent of Americans support requiring licenses to purchase firearms. This legislation is evidence-based, politically popular, and should be supported by elected officials on both sides of the aisle. America’s gun violence epidemic is out of control; it is time to focus on life-saving, meaningful solutions like the Handgun Purchaser Licensing Act.”

“Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence applauds Senator Chris Van Hollen and Congressman Jamie Raskin’s reintroduction of the Handgun Purchaser Licensing Act. Background checks serve as a good starting point to screen out prohibited individuals, but we cannot stop there. ‘Permit to purchase’ strengthens the background check process by requiring the applicant to apply to their local law enforcement agency, provide a photo and submit fingerprints. These additional measures have been shown to significantly reduce the number of straw purchases of handguns. The decrease in this diversion of gun into the illegal market lowers homicide rates in urban areas,” said Elizabeth Banach, Executive Director, Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence.