Van Hollen, Raskin Lead Introduction Of Permit-to-purchase Gun Safety Bill

Backed by Hopkins Research, Legislation would Aim to Reduce Gun Violence by Incentivizing State Gun Licensing Laws

March 16, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen and Congressman Jamie Raskin (both D-Md.) reintroduced 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. According to research conducted by the John Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research in 2015, these laws are statistically proven to reduce firearm homicides and keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals. Another 2020 study published in the American Journal of Public Health confirmed that permit-to-purchase laws are effective in reducing gun violence.

“To stop the senseless violence that is tearing at our communities we must implement nationwide, common-sense gun reforms. 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 – keeping firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals. While our state has already enacted this vital reform, Maryland is not an island. This legislation will help spur policies like ours across the United States and leverage this effective method to keep our communities safe,” said Senator Van Hollen, who first introduced this legislation in 2015.

“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 proud to re-introduce this bicameral legislation with my colleagues. When I was in the Maryland State Senate, I worked to help 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. The Handgun Purchaser Licensing Act will strengthen the federal-state partnership as we advance commonsense gun safety reform.” 

“Public health experts estimate that Connecticut’s “permit-to-purchase” law reduced gun homicides by 40 percent in our state. That means that this easy step saved hundreds of 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,” said Senator Blumenthal. 

“In Connecticut, we know that commonsense gun reforms like permit-to-purchase laws work. After our state began requiring a license to purchase a gun, there was a 40 percent drop in gun homicides, saving countless lives,” said Senator Murphy. “This bill incentivizes state and local governments to enact similar laws, which will help ensure guns stay out of the hands of criminals or those who fail a background check. The vast majority of Americans support commonsense gun legislation, and with this bill, we can save lives, make our communities safer, and take a big step toward ending the gun violence epidemic.”

“Connecticut is leading the way in implementing legislation that helps to make gun ownership safer. My state’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.

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.

Maryland and Connecticut are among the 9 states that currently have PTP laws on the books. A 2020 study published in the American Journal of Public Health shows a clear link between requiring a license to purchase a handgun and a significant reduction in firearm homicides and suicides. This research found that Connecticut’s adoption of its handgun purchaser licensing law led to 27.8% overall decrease in the state’s firearm homicide rate and a 32.8% overall decrease in its firearm suicide rate. Missouri’s repeal of its similar law led to a 47.3% increase in firearm homicides and a 23.5% increase in firearm suicides.

The legislation is supported by Brady, Giffords, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence.

“Several studies have demonstrated that handgun purchaser licensing laws reduce the number of guns diverted for criminal use, homicides, and suicides,” said Daniel Webster, Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy. Professor Webster added, “Our national surveys to gauge public opinion about gun policies find that three out of every adults and the majority of gun owners support handgun purchaser licensing laws.”

“State licensing for handguns, including permit to purchase, has long shown to be among the most effective tools to prevent gun violence and especially for stemming the flow of crime guns into communities,” said Brady President Kris Brown. “The Handgun Purchaser Licensing Act is a needed part of this supply-side approach to preventing gun violence, incentivizing states and localities to implement handgun licensing requirements based upon the needs and the realities in their communities. Brady thanks Sen. Van Hollen and Rep. Raskin for introducing this important bill and championing this common-sense approach to preventing gun violence.” 

“Permit-to-purchase systems are proven life-saving policies. These laws are effective means to reduce gun homicides and suicides, as well as enable states to provide guidance for responsible gun ownership. We saw over the last year an unprecedented surge in gun sales with a significant number of people bringing handguns into their home for the first time without any prior firearms safety or storage training. We applaud Senator Van Hollen and Representative Raskin for introducing this legislation. Congress should encourage states to establish licensing systems to ensure people buying handguns are doing so legally and responsibly,” said Lindsay Nichols, Federal Policy Director at Giffords.

"Gun violence is a leading cause of death in the U.S. Research shows firearm licensing laws are among the most effective ways to reduce both firearm homicides and suicides. Creating a federal grant program to incentivize state and local governments to enact handgun purchaser licensing laws will save lives. CSGV thanks Senators Van Hollen, Blumenthal, and Murphy, as well as Representatives Raskin and Hayes for their leadership on this important issue,” said Dakota Jablon, Director of Federal Affairs for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

“Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence applauds Senator Chris Van Hollen and Representative 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.  This, in turn, will decrease the diversion of guns into the illegal market and lower homicide rates in urban communities. These neighborhoods have shouldered the burden of gun violence for far too long and we are proud to see Senator Van Hollen and Representative Raskin prioritizing the safety of all of their constituents,” said Elizabeth Banach, Executive Director, Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence. 

A one-pager on the bill can be found here. The bill text is available here.