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Jon Vernick, of Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy, says tragedy may prompt more discussion of background checks for gun buyers

7:16 PM, Dec 17, 2012   |    comments
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (WUSA) -  How could the tragedy in Connecticut influence possible changes in our nation's gun laws?

Was the slaughter of 20 children the tipping point?

Andrea McCarren looked for answers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, which studies gun violence from a public health perspective.

The Center estimates there are 280 million guns in the hands of private citizens in this country. That's one for every man, woman and child. We used social media to solicit your questions and here's what we learned.

"There's a grave misconception in the United States that guns are registered, that we know who owns what gun," said Jon Vernick, Johns Hopkins Center For Gun Policy.

One question you had: why is it so hard for the U.S. to enact policies like in the U.K. that have reduced mass shootings? What actions can be taken?

"Of households that have both guns and children in them, more than 50% of the respondents say that the gun is stored, not locked up," said Vernick.


A 1986 law actually forbids the federal government from registering guns. Some states do have as a matter of state law, and CT is one of them, a registration requirement, but the majority of states don't register guns so it's very hard to hold the owners accountable for bad things that happen with those guns.

Another question that has come up: How can we convince gun enthusiasts that controls don't eliminate the right to legitimately and safely own guns?

"One fear of gun enthusiasts has always been that greater restrictions are a step down the slippery slope towards completely banning handguns, but that option has now been taken off the political table by the Supreme Court, so gun enthusiasts really shouldn't have anything to fear from universal background checks,." said Vernick.

And this question: How do we get more guns into the hands of responsible people and more guns at school to prevent similar scenarios from happening?

"The argument goes criminals will be afraid of encountering an armed civilian. Unfortunately, the research doesn't bear that out. There isn't credible, responsible, persuasive evidence that arming civilians actually reduces rates of crime," said Vernick.

There's also evidence that if one looks at people who are specially trained to own guns and to use them in dangerous situations, like police, sadly don't often hit what they're aiming at.

Vernick said that we're likely to see more discussion of universal background checks to keep guns out of the hands of high-risk people, and also a potential policy move to address military-style assault weapons in the hands of civilians.

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