The American people are fed up with the epidemic of gun violence in the country and the refusal of Congress to remedy the problem with simple, common sense solutions. Every day, gun violence claims 90 lives; every year, gun violence injures or kills over 100,000 people. Neither the grim statistics nor the increasing wave of mass killings, including the slaughter of children at Sandy Hook, has made a dent in the stony indifference of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
But as Senator Charles Schumer and a number of religious leaders, including Rabbi Joel Mosbacher in the New York Times, have suggested, there is a way around the Congress, if President Obama is willing to seize the opportunity: Use the purchasing power of the federal government -- as well as states and municipalities -- to make the gun industry assume corporate responsibility for its lethal products and change its ways.
Right now, governments at every level purchase huge amounts of firearms for law enforcement and military purposes. This means that taxpayers are helping to finance the gun manufacturers. Yet, no government has imposed any sensible restrictions or conditions on how gun manufacturers operate. As a result, taxpayer dollars provide the wherewithal for these companies to thrive, make profits and persist in the irresponsible behavior that results in the tragic and senseless death and maiming of so many Americans.
What are we waiting for? At all levels of government, procurement contracts with gun manufacturers or distributors can and should include some basic and straightforward provisions that would help curb the criminal gun market and provide a major antidote to the rampant violence we see.
A key element of the gun violence epidemic is the small group of rogue gun dealers who knowingly sell firearms to the criminal market. In fact, the illegal firearm market is supplied almost entirely by just 5% of licensed dealers. These irresponsible dealers often use unethical business practices to sell to straw purchasers, gun traffickers and other dangerous people. And even when they brazenly violate the law, it takes many, many years before the federal government's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms shuts them down.
Firearms manufacturers know who these dealers are, or could easily find this information, either from the ATF or from their dealers or distributors. They should document the integrity of their supply chain through chain of custody certification so that their lethal products aren't diverted into dangerous hands by dishonest dealers. But they choose not to. Instead, these manufacturers are happy to profit from the sale of guns that flow to the illegal gun market every day, and are used to commit over 400,000 crimes every year. Even worse, many of these manufacturers make and distribute military-purposed assault weapons -- designed for the battlefield, not the duck blind--and high capacity ammunition magazines that are often used by mass killers. Moreover, the manufacturers stubbornly refuse to develop smart gun technology or incorporate safety devices that could save many lives, by preventing firearm suicides, unintentional shootings by children and gun thefts.
There are several common sense, feasible conditions that should be part of every government contract with a firearms manufacturer or seller. Here are some key ones:
1) Require that, at every stage of the distribution process, the manufacturer or distributor sell guns only to dealers with responsible business practices that minimize the risk that criminals will obtain the weapons. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence's Code of Conduct is a model for responsible practices.
2) Require the manufacturer to commit to developing and installing life-saving features on firearms, such as user authorized or childproof "smart" technology;
3) Require manufacturers to sell military-purposed assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines only to governments, and not to civilians.
There is growing momentum for these sorts of practical reforms. These are actions that the President, Cabinet Secretaries and state and local executives can take right now without waiting for an intractable Congress or state or local legislatures to do what needs to be done to reduce and prevent the appalling number of gun deaths and injuries plaguing America.
We urge President Obama, as well as mayors and governors across America, to use their collective purchasing power right now to stop the appalling carnage that, sadly, has come to define us as a nation.
Elizabeth Holtzman is a former NY Congresswoman, NYC Comptroller and Brooklyn DA. Leah Gunn Barrett is Executive Director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence.