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Clinton-Gore Interdepartmental Working Group On Violence

Tuesday, December 19, 2000

From its beginning, the Clinton-Gore Administration made "gun control" a priority, and their plan to do so was revealed in 1994, when U.S. News & World Report obtained a secret White House report on crime and violence through the Freedom of Information Act.

The report is 89 pages long and addresses many issues. The section dealing with firearms laws is provided below.


Executive Summary


Firearms play a large role in our epidemic of violence. Children and adolescents may not be fighting more often, but when they do fight, the flood of guns makes death a far more likely outcome than ever before. Both the victims and perpetrators of homicides have become younger and younger.

We have reached a tragic point, unparalleled in our history: Firearm-related death rates for women, teenage boys, and young adults are higher now than at any other time. For young people 10 to 34 years of age, firearms are the second leading cause of death, and one out of five deaths to U.S. teens is due to firearms. Young people can easily obtain firearms, and they carry guns on a regular basis. A recent Justice Department survey found that 22 percent of male students at ten inner city high schools have guns and that 12 percent carry them routinely. In 1990, more U.S. teenagers died from firearm-related injuries than from all natural diseases combined. New research has demonstrated that there are high risks and minimal protective benefits to having a gun in the home.

In 1991 alone, firearms were used to commit 17,746 homicides and injure 102,000 people during assaults. Furthermore, firearms were used in over 18,500 suicides, about 1,440 unintentional deaths, and an even larger number of suicide attempts and nonfatal unintentional shootings. Tragically, firearm deaths and injuries are largely predictable and preventable.

The United States has never tried a comprehensive approach to preventing firearm injuries. Federal lawn regulating firearms are piecemeal, underenforced, and do not treat firearms as the dangerous consumer products they are. Rational public policy, well-executed science, and effective enforcement can help end this epidemic of gun violence.

In the area of firearms safety and restrictions, we should consider accelerating research, program evaluation, and new technology development. On the whole, the federal government invests few resources in preventing firearm injuries. Firearm injuries, however, can be prevented in much the same ways as past efforts have made a difference in preventing other leading causes of death. For example, in 1966, the federal government made highway safety a national priority by passing the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act and the Highway Safety Act. Over the next few years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Highway Administration provided the leadership.

The federal government has invested more than $250 million in research and program development to prevent motor vehicle injury deaths, saving 250,000 lives over the past 25 years. We should be able to do at least as well in preventing firearm injuries, provided that we change to blend criminal justice strategy with approaches that deal with public health, jobs, education, housing, transportation, and substance abuse prevention. A major prevention effort must involve people from all communities, all backgrounds, all ethnic groups, all political persuasions, and all regions.


There is no simple or quick solution to firearm violence. We must study and plan to implement a broad array of interventions. And we can begin incrementally with policies that have a good probability of preventing firearms injuries and do not impinge upon law-abiding gun owners.

For example, the recently passed Brady law mandates a waiting period before a handgun purchase but does not require a criminal record or mental health background check. States which have implemented such checks report that they prevent legal firearm purchase by thousands of prohibited persons each year. We should evaluate if more aggressive background checks and improved criteria for identifying potentially criminal users can reduce firearm injuries. If so, we will have a method for restricting access by potential criminal users without compromising access by legitimate users.

We must establish a credible scientific basis for preventing firearm injuries and direct our resources toward programs of proven effectiveness. Given the terrible consequences of firearms in our society, it is remarkable that research and development funds for firearm violence prevention amount to only seven cents of every $100 of R&D funds spent by the federal government. To inform the public, and to inform new policy making in firearms violence prevention, the federal government should invest in research on patterns of firearms ownership, use, supply, fatalities and injuries.

The federal government should also begin to evaluate the effectiveness of laws and strategies designed to limit the supply of firearms, restrict access to firearms, and limit their deliberate misuse. Most such laws, including the Brady law, have never been vigorously evaluated, but several have been evaluated and found to be effective. Laws that prohibit carrying guns in public and that impose a mandatory sentence for crimes perpetrated with a firearm such as the Bartley Fox law in Massachusetts have been found to have small but positive effects on reducing firearms homicides.


1. Make it harder for people who should not have guns to get them. Under existing federal law, access to firearms and ammunition in the United States is largely unregulated. As a result, an estimated 200 million firearms are currently in circulation.

Inevitably, the wrong people have access to guns. Many of them are people who intend to commit crimes. Others are people who lack the careful judgment that should accompany gun ownership: people who are impaired by a mental illness, impaired by alcohol or drugs, or blinded by rage. Federal law does not currently specify that any of these characteristics be included in a background check. Keeping firearms out of the hands of children and youth should be an especially high priority. So long as the supply of firearms and access to firearms remain essentially unrestricted, these groups will continue to do harm to themselves and others. The federal government should study the effectiveness of strict licensing laws on reducing firearms deaths.

To complement the above measures, effective firearm control should consider limiting production of certain new firearms and ammunition, especially the most dangerous weapons, ln addition to bans on new production of assault weapons (as in Senator Feinstein`s amendment to the Crime Bill), consideration should be given to placing higher taxes on handguns, which remain the weapon of choice among criminals, accounting for approximately 80% of all firearms homicides.

It is also possible that increased excise taxes on handguns and particularly dangerous ammunition would help offset the cost of providing medical care to gunshot victims and support state regulatory and enforcement efforts to prevent firearms injuries. If additional taxes are going to be imposed, consideration should be given to setting them at a cost per gun or bullet, rather than a percentage of manufacturers` prices, because cheap guns and expensive guns can do equal damage.

By themselves, restrictions on new manufacture and sales of various firearms will not reduce our huge existing arsenal of firearms, or keep those firearms away from criminals and those who may cause harm. State or local amnesty or buy-back programs may help reduce the arsenal as suggested by the recent experience with the Toys R Us swap program, as would elimination of the government practice of selling to civilians the firearms that are seized in crimes. New requirements that firearms purchasers be licensed and/or be mandated to register their firearms, combined with stricter enforcement of laws prohibiting sale of firearms to certain groups of people, could significantly reduce access to guns by those who should not have them. Increasing dealer liability for negligent sales would also help.

In addition to, or as an alternative to, a licensing scheme (where firearms purchasers might have to pass a gun safety test and a background check to receive a permit to buy any firearm or ammunition), the federal government should consider creating a class of restricted weapons. This list would include all handguns and semi-automatic long guns that are not otherwise outlawed and could be purchased or carried only by persons holding valid registration certificates. These restricted weapon certificates could be issued by the local police or licensing authorities only after applicants had passed a background check for felonies, violent misdemeanors, mental illness, etc.; demonstrated a satisfactory knowledge of the safe and responsible use of firearms; accepted liability for injuries resulting from the negligent use or storage of these weapons; and showed that the firearm would be used only for specified legitimate purposes. Restricted weapons could be possessed only in one`s home, one`s place of business, on the premises of a target range (depending on the terms of the registration certificate), or while being transported to or from any of the above. Possession of an unregistered, restricted firearm or unlawful public carrying of a restricted firearm would be a punishable federal offense. Developing this class of restricted firearms would thus divide firearms into three groups: banned, restricted, and unrestricted (i.e. long guns which are not semi automatic).

Tighter restrictions on retail firearm sales must be supplemented by efforts to block the two streams by which criminals most often obtain their firearms -- the illegal black market and theft. Such a regulatory scheme might look as follows: The federal government would regulate secondary transfers of all firearms to prevent their delivery to those prohibited by law to have weapons. To transfer a firearm, an unlicensed person would be required, along with the transferee, either to go to the premises of a licensed dealer and document the transfer in the dealer`s records, or to mail a transfer application to the local police (including the name and residence of both the transferor and transferee). The transferee would be required to certify that he is not a prohibited purchaser (as he must now do in order to buy a firearm from a licensed dealer), and, in the case of a handgun, to wait five days for a background check. To control theft from licensed dealers, the federal law would require dealers to store their firearms securely. The regimen would involve stricter penalties for gun theft, as well.

Licensing and registration requirements will not be effective unless we tighten various loopholes. A list of people prohibited to own guns should include those with a record of crime or violence. And we should require licensed dealers to comply with existing federal firearm law. Congress should consider funding assistance to state. for the improvements in criminal record keeping that are mandated in the Brady Bill. Gun purchase applicants with criminal records, but without prior felony convictions are 15 times more likely to use a firearm in a crime, but without competent record keeping it will be impossible to screen out criminals.

To ensure dealer compliance, we suggest reducing the number of licensed firearm dealers (currently numbering almost 250,000) by implementing higher fees such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms has recommended (the Brady law mandates fees of $200 for a three year license, and the ATF is considering fees as high as $600 per year and tighter application standards beyond what has been accomplished by the Brady law.

Also the federal government, as well as the states, should redouble efforts to monitor and regulate licensed dealers. Furthermore, we could consider adopting on a national basis the Virginia law prohibiting licensed dealers from selling more than one firearm per month to any single individual. The Brady law requires that dealers notify state or local law enforcement authorities of multiple sales of two or more pistols or revolvers in any five day period to an unlicensed person.

2. Regulate how firearms are stored, carried, and used. Regulation of firearms should be designed not only to limit access by criminals and people with a violent or mentally ill background, but also to stop those people who do gain possession of firearms from using them unlawfully. The federal government should take steps to (1) encourage passage of tougher penalties for unlawful gun possession and for gun crimes, as in the Senate`s Crime Bill, and commit the resources to ensure swift punishment for such crimes. We should consider making the use of a firearm in a crime a federal offense, considering how the potential for better record keeping on gun-related crimes balances with the predicted changes in the actual effectiveness and enforcement of these laws. Also, federal law might (2) require firearms be safely carried, stored, and used; (3) prohibit the carrying of firearms in locations such as schools, hospitals, work sites, bars, and safe havens; and (4) promote public education about the risks and benefits of firearm ownership and access.

Laws that prohibit the carrying of guns in public and that impose a mandatory sentence for crimes perpetrated with a firearm have been found to have small but positive effects in reducing firearm homicides. Campaigns against smoking and drunk driving have been quite successful: similarly, the federal government might spearhead a public service campaign about the risks of firearm ownership and use. Pending health care legislation and ongoing programs at the Department of Health and Human Services can incorporate firearm violence prevention training. We should encourage states and local jurisdictions to pursue firearm violence prevention by locally appropriate means. No federal regulation in this area should preempt stricter regulations at the state or local level.

3. Reduce the lethality of firearms. The manufacture and importation of firearms that are inherently unsafe and excessively lethal continues in the United States. Federal law requires imported weapons to adhere to design and safety standards; however, current federal policies do not impose the same design and safety standards on domestically manufactured weapons and ammunition. Many handguns now manufactured in the United States for civilian use would fail these tests.

The recent approval of the Feinstein amendment to the Senate`s Crime Bill, which would prohibit the new manufacture and sale of 19 specified assault weapon models and any copycat versions, together with the existing ban on production of certain armor-piercing ammunition, demonstrates a willingness to ban extremely dangerous firearms and ammunition. Both efforts have substantial public support. We should consider the further steps of adopting specific performance standards that would prohibit manufacture of firearms capable of firing more than a certain number of rounds or a certain number of bullets per second as well as ammunition that, under specified firing conditions, pierces armor, expands more than a certain percentage upon impact, or ignites upon contact.

Additionally, the federal government should require domestically manufactured firearms to incorporate the same safety features as imported firearms; We should encourage or mandate the use of trigger locks, limit magazine sizes, and continue to fund research into "Smart Gun" technologies capable of rendering firearms unusable except by their owners.

4. Support research to develop a sound scientific basis for preventing firearm injuries:

a) Undertake research through the CDC and NIJ to better understand the risks and benefits of firearm ownership, the patterns of acquisition, ownership and use, and the causes of firearm injuries.

b) Establish a National Firearm Injury Reporting System at CDC.

c) Evaluate interventions to measure their effectiveness in preventing firearm injuries, and support an accelerated research and demonstration program to accomplish this.

d) Explore technological innovations that can promote firearm safety and identify non-lethal alternatives for self-protection.

5. Reframe the public debate on firearms.

a) Change the stage from politics and philosophy to science: We need to reframe the public discussion about firearms injuries, from a political or philosophical debate on "gun control" as an all-or-none binary intervention to a discussion based on scientifically documented risks and benefits of firearm access and rigorously evaluated policy options. This is a paradigm shift.

b) Place specific changes in the context of multiple interventions: We need to let people know that progress in preventing firearms injuries will come just as the great progress we made in reducing motor vehicle deaths came not by banning cars, but from building safer cars, safer roads, getting drunk drivers off the roads, and enforcing licensing requirements. No one measure is the answer. The Brady law is one small step forward. It is not "either ... or" it is "this and this and this...."

c) Focus on children: Nobody will oppose programs to prevent children from shooting children. Need to focus on reducing access by children to firearms.

d) Stress the importance of changing behavior and the social environment as additional ways to prevent firearm violence: We need to rebuild the social capital and address poverty, discrimination, lack of jobs, lack of education, lack of hope, and drugs and alcohol abuse. We have learned a lot of lessons about how to change behaviors as well as focusing on the firearms themselves. You can`t take guns away from men who are frightened, from women are scared, or from communities which are scared without giving them reassurance and a sense of security.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.