Nearly 30,000 American lives are lost to gun violence each year—a number far higher than in any other developed country. Since 1963, more Americans have died by gunfire than perished in combat during the whole of the 20th century. And the impact goes far beyond the dead and injured. Gun violence reaches across borders and jurisdictions and compromises the safety of everyone along the way. No other industrialized country suffers as many gun fatalities and injuries as the United States. And no community or person in America is immune.1
—Taking a Stand: Reducing Gun Violence in Our Communities
he United States is the most highly armed country in the world. There are 90 guns for every 100 citizens, according to 2007 figures from the Small Arms Survey; in the rest of the world, the rate is 10 firearms for every 100 citizens. The rate of lethal violence in the United States is correspondingly higher than that of other developed countries. A study of crime in the 1990s by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put the U.S. firearm homicide rate for children alone at 16 times that of other developed countries.
Contrary to popular belief, firearm violence is not simply an urban problem, a gang problem, or a criminal problem. The yearly firearms-related death toll includes more than 16,000 suicides as well as shooting deaths involving young children and the mentally ill. Tragically, studies have demonstrated that many of these situations turned lethal because of the easy availability of firearms.
The IACP has long been focused on the problem of firearm violence in the United States, in particular the rampant availability of illegal firearms, and the impact of that violence on citizens and the police officers who protect them. In response to this continuing and growing problem, the IACP has taken a lead role in addressing this violence through training and technical assistance to local agencies. Since 1997, the IACP, working with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, has provided training to over 1,000 local law enforcement agencies on the interdiction of illegal firearms.
In addition, the IACP has worked closely with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to make sure local agencies fully understand the investigative importance of tracing all crime guns through the ATF’s National Tracing Center. More recently, the association has joined forces with the U.S. Department of Justice Project Safe Neighborhoods effort, ramping up the impact and scope of illegal firearm interdiction training throughout the United States. But even with these efforts in place, it was clear to the IACP leadership that a larger, systemic effort would be required to reduce firearm violence levels substantially.
|To see the full report, visit the IACP Web site.2|
Need for a Summit
In early 2007, the IACP began a series of discussions with the leadership of the Joyce Foundation of Chicago to gain its perspective on firearm violence issues. The Joyce Foundation is a not-for-profit organization with a mission to improve the quality of life in communities within the Great Lakes region of the United States. The foundation’s view was complementary to that of the IACP—focusing on the impact of firearm violence on communities, the health-care system, and public policy decisions throughout the nation.
From those meetings, a plan emerged to hold a national summit on firearm violence, sponsored by both the IACP and the Joyce Foundation. The urgent need for action on this issue was clear:
- Each year, 30,000 individuals die from firearm violence (homicides and suicides).
- In 2007, 69 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty by firearms (a 33 percent increase from the previous year).
- Firearms in the hands of the wrong people—youth, gang members, adult criminals, the mentally ill, perpetrators of domestic violence, and those with suicidal thoughts—account for the majority of firearm deaths.
- Thousands of local communities are concerned about the problem and yet are unsure how to respond to it.
- Thousands of local police agencies are struggling as well with effective approaches to stemming the violence.
- Citizens and police alike are finding that solutions are not easy or readily apparent.
- The IACP and the Joyce Foundation realize the urgent need to create a comprehensive national strategy to guide those addressing gun violence.
Given this clear mandate, the IACP and the foundation began the work of designing, planning, and holding a national firearm violence summit in April 2007 in Chicago, to address the issue fully and create a viable national strategy.
The IACP’s national summit series, since its inception in 1993, has been noted for its multidisciplinary approach to critical law enforcement issues. Each summit has brought together leaders from all disciplines—including but not limited to the law enforcement community—to ensure that summit recommendations would be both as systemic and as innovative as possible. The gun violence summit was no exception. The 120 participants who attended the summit represented the following stakeholders:
IACP and Joyce Foundation staff, understanding that the gun violence summit must cross all jurisdictional and disciplinary boundaries, created an ad hoc advisory group that would guide both the planning and the preparation for the summit and identify the critical areas to be addressed by attendees. The members of the advisory group are listed here.
- Bill Blair, Chief of Police, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
- Jeri Bonavia, Executive Director, WAVE Educational Fund
- Charles Bruggemann, Colonel, Illinois State Police
- Ella Bully-Cummings, Chief of Police, Detroit, Michigan
- John Chisholm, District Attorney, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, District Attorney’s Office
- Philip Cline, Superintendent, Chicago, Illinois, Police Department
- Tom Dart, Sheriff, Cook County, Illinois
- Tom Diaz, Senior Policy Analyst, Violence Policy Center
- Paul Fitzgerald, Sheriff, Story County, Iowa
- Fred Gebauer, General Counsel, New York City Mayor’s Office
- Gary Hagler, Chief of Police, Flint, Michigan
- Scott Harshbarger, Senior Counsel to Firm, Proskauer Rose LLP
- Nannette Hegerty, Chief of Police, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
- David Hemenway, Professor, School of Public Health, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
- Steven Jansen, Director, National Center for Community Prosecution, National District Attorneys Association
- Frank Kaminski, Director of Safety, Evanston Township, Illinois, High School, School District 202
- Scott Knight, Chief of Police, Chaska, Minnesota
- Russell Laine, Chief of Police, Algonquin, Illinois; and First Vice President, IACP
- Tom Mahoney, Deputy Supervisor, Cook County, Illinois, State Attorney’s Office
- Thom Mannard, Executive Director, Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence
- Matthew Miller, Assistant Professor, School of Public Health, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
- David Mitchell, Cabinet Secretary, Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security
- Kathleen Monahan, Project Director, Illinois Violent Death Reporting System
- Mallory O’Brien, Associate Director, Injury Control Research Center, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
- Terry Perry, Legislative Coordinator, City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
- Ervin Portis, Chief of Police, Jackson, Mississippi
- Joy Rikala, Chief of Police (retired), Minnetonka, Minnesota
- John Risely, Deputy Superintendent, Chicago, Illinois, Police Department
- Leslie Sharrock, Chief of Police, Waukesha, Wisconsin
- Ed Tomba, Commander, Cleveland, Ohio, Police Department
- Andrew Traver, Special Agent in Charge, Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, Chicago, Illinois, Field Division
- Nina Vinik, Legal Director, Legal Community Against Violence
- Douglas Wiebe, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
This prestigious group of law enforcement, community health, and academic advisers was chaired by the IACP’s first vice president, Chief Russell Laine of the Algonquin, Illinois, Police Department. Supporting Chief Laine was Chief Scott Knight of the Chaska, Minnesota, Police Department, who chairs the IACP’s Firearms Committee. Together, they led the advisory group as it made critical decisions throughout summit and final report efforts.
- Community leaders
- Elected officials
- Law enforcement executives
- Justice system officials
- Health-care experts
- University-based researchers
- Foundation directors
- Victim advocates
The IACP and the Joyce Foundation worked hard to ensure that participants brought diversity, innovative thinking, and leadership to the event. As described later in this article, the synergy of this diverse gathering of individuals led to the development of a comprehensive firearm violence reduction strategy that resonates with all members of the community, rather than just a few.
The summit was held in Chicago, Illinois, on April 10 and 11, 2007. It was a two-day event focused on problem identification, prioritization of possible strategies, and ultimately the development of a comprehensive plan to reduce firearm violence in U.S. communities. Prior to their deliberations, attendees were addressed by national leaders, including Joseph Carter, then IACP president; Ellen Alberding, president of the Joyce Foundation; Tom Dart, sheriff of Cook County, Illinois; Richard M. Daley, mayor of Chicago, Illinois; Tom Barrett, mayor of Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Michael Sullivan, ATF director.
To facilitate efforts, summit participants broke out in the following six groups for the majority of both summit working days:
- Police officer safety
- Domestic violence and firearms
- Gang violence and community safety
- Illegal firearm trafficking
- Suicide and firearm access
- Illicit drug markets and firearms
The facilitated discussions in each breakout session spanned the two-day summit period and allowed participants to “roll up their sleeves” and craft locally relevant policies and strategies targeting firearm violence reduction. At the end of the second day, participants returned to a final plenary session to report on their respective breakout efforts. The innovative concepts developed by participants served as the foundation for a final summit document and action agenda released subsequently by the IACP: Taking a Stand: Reducing Gun Violence in Our Communities.
The final summit report, released across the United States in September 2007, presented a total of 39 discrete recommendations, grouped into three major policy areas:
- Keeping communities safe
- Preventing and solving gun crime
- Keeping police officers safe
The following is a brief summary of the 39 recommendations, excerpted from the final summit report. To view the full report, please visit the IACP Web site.2
Keeping Communities Safe
Increase public awareness of the impact of gun violence:
- The Joyce Foundation and the International Association of Chiefs of Police should develop research-based campaigns to educate policy makers and the public regarding the causes, costs, risks, and effects of gun violence, and strategies for preventing it.
- Law enforcement agencies and their partners should work to identify and implement effective education and prevention programs focused on youth at risk of gun violence.
- Law enforcement agencies and their partners should work to develop and implement education campaigns targeted at gun owners.
Engage community support in reducing gun violence:
- Law enforcement leaders should devote resources and personnel to establishing and sustaining partnerships with community leaders to combat gun violence.
- Congress should restore funding for Community Oriented Policing Services to strengthen community/police partnerships for combating gun violence.
Reduce easy access to guns:
- The IACP should develop a best practices protocol for voluntary gun surrender programs.
- Law enforcement executives should develop and implement policies to ensure the secure storage of guns temporarily in the department’s possession. Procedures including a criminal background check for returning firearms and for third-party transfers should also be implemented.
- Law enforcement agencies should mandate destruction of all firearms that come into their possession once any law enforcement use for them is completed.
- Congress, as well as state, local, and tribal governments, should enact laws requiring that all gun sales and transfers proceed through a Federal Firearms License (FFL), thus ensuring that a mandatory background check will be conducted on the transferee.
- State and/or local governments should license all gun dealers.
- State and local governments should regulate and/or limit the sale of multiple handguns as a measure to reduce gun trafficking.
- State and local governments should mandate that a ballistic fingerprint is recorded for every gun sold.
Protect children and youth from gun violence:
- State, local, and tribal governments should mandate that every gun sold comes with a lock or security device that meets minimum safety standards, to help protect against accidental discharge and misuse.
- State, local, and tribal governments should mandate safe storage of guns, provide voluntary off-site storage facilities, and prosecute those who fail to comply with safe storage laws.
- All states should have laws that reinforce the federal laws prohibiting domestic violence misdemeanants and the subjects of domestic violence protection orders from purchasing or possessing firearms. The state laws should mandate that law enforcement remove all firearms and ammunition when responding to domestic violence incidents and when serving a domestic violence protective order. These important state and federal laws should be vigorously enforced by judges and law enforcement.
Prohibit gun possession by at-risk individuals:
- Federal, state, local, and tribal governments should enact laws prohibiting persons with misdemeanor convictions involving violence, qualifying mental health adjudications and commitments, or a history of domestic violence and/or drug abuse from purchasing, possessing, and transporting any guns or ammunition. These laws should be consistently and vigorously enforced.
- Law enforcement executives should create policies and protocols on the appropriate removal and seizure of firearms from prohibited persons and ensure that necessary training is provided.
Focus on suicide prevention:
- The CDC should work with law enforcement executives to standardize investigations into all violent deaths, including suicide, to improve the quality and comprehensiveness of National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) data.
- The philanthropic and public sectors should support the development, distribution, and evaluation of curricula for health-care providers, law enforcement, and mental health providers regarding their role in reducing suicidal individuals’ access to firearms.
- The IACP should develop a set of recommended best practices for preventing suicide by law enforcement officers.
Preventing and Solving Crime
Stop the flow of illegal guns:
- Congress should restore funding for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program for state, local, and tribal agencies to investigate and prosecute cases of gun trafficking and gun violence.
- The federal government should increase funding to ATF for personnel and technical assistance to combat gun violence.
- Law enforcement agencies should increase investments in technologies and strategies that facilitate intelligence-led investigations.
- Congress should repeal the Tiahrt Amendment, which restricts the sharing of gun trace data.
- State and local governments should mandate the reporting of lost and stolen firearms, and federal law in this area should be tightened.
Increase resources for information sharing among jurisdictions:
- Congress should fully fund the NVDRS, and it should be implemented in all 50 states.
- Congress should fund the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, and law enforcement agencies should use it consistently; it should also be funded to become integrated nationwide.
- Law enforcement leaders should provide, and public and private funding should support, training for law enforcement agencies to use the necessary tools to investigate, share information about, and prosecute incidents of gun violence and illegal gun trafficking.
- State, local, and tribal agencies should forge partnerships with federal law enforcement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, researchers, and other relevant organizations and individuals to investigate and prosecute incidents of gun violence and patterns of illegal gun trafficking.
Deal with gun crime incidents:
- Every law enforcement agency should use eTrace, ensure that officers know how to properly recover and process crime guns, and make sure that officers trace all firearms recovered.
- Law enforcement agencies should make sure that officers know how to debrief individuals involved in incidents of gun violence or arrested in possession of a gun.
Keeping Police Officers Safe
Reduce the lethality of firearms as well as their availability to criminals:
- Congress should enact legislation to allow federal health and safety oversight of the firearms industry.
- Congress should enact an effective ban on military-style assault weapons.
- Congress should enact an effective ban on .50-caliber sniper rifles.
- Congress should enact an effective ban on armor-piercing handgun ammunition.
Provide officers with the most advanced firearm protective technologies and information:
- Local law enforcement agencies, policy makers, and the federal government should increase investments in protective technologies that improve officer safety.
Train officers to be experts in handling guns and situations involving guns:
- State, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies should establish agency standards for law enforcement officer firearm certification.
- Local law enforcement agencies should continue to enhance and promote training in less-lethal tactics and officer safety for all officers.
Provide access to mental health support and training:
- Local law enforcement agencies should require training for officers to reduce stress and postincident trauma.
Taken as a whole, these 39 recommendations create a comprehensive, community-based strategy to respond to, and reduce, firearm violence. The recommendations are in essence a portfolio of actions for communities, law enforcement leaders, legislators, advocates, researchers, and all others to embrace and enact across the United States. Each recommended action is supported by facts and targets a specific community need. All actions, if taken, can have a dramatic impact on reducing firearm violence and victimization.
Implementing Summit Recommendations and Reducing Gun Violence
Now that the summit is concluded and the report is circulating, much more work lies ahead for the IACP and the Joyce Foundation:
- Continued collaboration between the Joyce Foundation and IACP leadership
- Continued involvement of advisers
- Outreach across the United States to begin the process of implementing summit recommendations
IACP and Joyce Foundation staff met in Chicago recently to develop a plan for the next 12 months to move summit recommendations into the field. That plan includes targeted outreach to police leaders, governing bodies, legislatures, and firearm violence advocacy organizations across the United States.
Summit Impact on U.S. Gun Violence
The leadership at both the IACP and the Joyce Foundation believes that the omnibus set of recommendations, if embraced and adopted by legislators, governing bodies, law enforcement agencies, and communities can have a dramatic impact on lowering firearm violence levels in the United States.
We believe that all U.S. communities must take this challenge seriously, since no one is immune to firearm violence. The IACP’s leadership continues to be clear and consistent in its message: the issue before the nation is the senseless and needless killing of 30,000 people a year, including police officers, by firearm violence. The summit and its final report focus squarely on this problem and present viable and well-thought-out ideas to stem that violence. ■
1The words gun and firearm tend to be used interchangeably in most written or spoken language. From a law enforcement perspective, gun typically indicates a handgun or other small arm, while firearm represents any weapon whatsoever that has a ballistic component (such as a handgun, shotgun, rifle, and so on). For the purpose of this article, the term firearm will predominate.
2The report is available at http://www.theiacp.org/documents/pdfs/Publications/ACF1875.pdf.