Preventing Gun Violence and Crime
Senator Lautenberg has consistently fought to strengthen our nation’s gun violence prevention laws and to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous criminals and terrorists. Senator Lautenberg has also demanded more funding and protections for local police and law enforcement officials to help them do their job and keep our streets safe.
Domestic Violence Gun Ban and Brady Law
Senator Lautenberg wrote the domestic violence gun ban to protect women and children by keeping spousal and child abusers from owning guns. Specifically, this law prohibits those who have been convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors from buying or possessing firearms. To date, this law has kept more than 200,000 guns out of the hands of convicted domestic abusers. Recently, portions of the law were challenged in court. However, in February 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Senator Lautenberg’s federal ban on gun possession by convicted misdemeanor domestic violence abusers. The Supreme Court rejected arguments by the gun lobby and a convicted domestic abuser that would have allowed convicted abusers in at least 25 states to rearm themselves with guns. Lautenberg had submitted an amicus brief to the Court in defense of his law.
Senator Lautenberg was also a cosponsor and strong supporter of the Brady law, which established background checks for handgun purchases and has stopped more than 1.5 million felons and dangerous people from buying guns.
Senator Lautenberg at a press conference introducing legislation to close the "gun show loophole." He was joined at the event by Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA); Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence; Sue Else, President of National Network to End Domestic Violence; and victims and family members of the Virginia Tech tragedy. The victims included Omar Samaha, the brother of Reema Samaha, who was shot and killed at Virginia Tech; and Colin Goddard, who was shot and injured in his classroom at Virginia Tech. The Senators' bill would close the loophole by requiring background checks on sales at gun shows. (April 21, 2009)
Gun Show Loophole
Senator Lautenberg has been fighting for over a decade to close the gun show loophole. This loophole defies common sense and allows guns to be sold, even to criminals and terrorists, without background checks at gun shows. Lautenberg has proposed legislation to close this loophole by requiring that sellers at gun shows perform the same background checks that licensed gun dealers are required to perform under the Brady Law. The Senate passed Senator Lautenberg’s legislation in 1999, after Vice President Gore cast the deciding vote to break a 50-50 tie on the measure. Unfortunately, the bill died in conference, and this loophole continues to exist. Senator Lautenberg intends to continue to push to close the gun show loophole this year.
Senator Lautenberg strongly supports reinstatement and strengthening of the assault weapons ban, which President Bush and the Republican congressional leadership allowed to expire in 2004. The need for an effective assault weapons ban cannot be overstated; without it, our streets are less safe and our law enforcement community is at greater risk. Assault weapons possess unique, military-bred, anti-personnel design characteristics, and are capable of large-capacity magazines that hold up to 150 bullets. According to federal law enforcement officials, semiautomatic assault weapons are especially attractive to criminals.
There were also loopholes exploited by criminals in the assault weapons ban that should be eliminated. For example, assault weapons could be slightly modified so as to evade the ban's coverage and "parts kits" were sold to allow criminals to assemble unlawful assault weapons. For those reasons, Senator Lautenberg supports both reauthorizing the assault weapons ban, and strengthening it to combat some of its limitations.
Tiahrt Amendment Restricting Law Enforcement Use of Gun Data
In 2004, Congressman Todd Tiahrt of Kansas added provisions to appropriations legislation that significantly hurt the ability of law enforcement officials to share critical data on guns that have been used in crimes and the criminals who have used them. The Tiahrt amendments have been in law since 2004. Senator Lautenberg has publicly criticized these provisions and endorsed legislation to reverse them. This issue is not just about guns – it is about giving our cops the tools they need to protect our families and protect themselves.
Senator Lautenberg speaks at a press conference with Trenton Mayor Douglas Palmer, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and other officials on the need to fully fund local law enforcement programs in New Jersey and nationwide. (September 26, 2007)
The Tiahrt Amendments also mandate the destruction of certain gun background check data after only 24 hours.
Licensed gun dealers conduct background checks before they sell guns to customers. The background checks are conducted using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). When the sale is permissible, the dealer receives a “proceed” message. The NICS system creates a log of its search. But the Tiahrt Amendments provide that the NICS log must be destroyed within 24 hours of this “proceed” message, allowing only non-identifying information to be maintained. For example, the purchaser’s name and social security number are purged from the system, precluding future searches using identifying information. This can be particularly problematic in cases where a gun’s serial number has been obliterated, making it impossible to trace the gun.
Keeping Guns out of the Hands of Terrorists
After Senator Lautenberg exposed in 2005 that the Bush Administration was blocking law enforcement from retrieving data about gun purchases by people on the terrorist watch list, the Department of Justice changed its policies, and now provides information to law enforcement when suspected terrorists purchase weapons. Most Americans would be surprised to learn that known and suspected terrorists are not legally prohibited from buying a gun in our country. Senator Lautenberg has written a bipartisan proposal to restrict gun sales to suspected terrorists.
Funding for Police and Law Enforcement
As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and the Subcommittee that funds the Department of Justice and most law enforcement initiatives, Senator Lautenberg has worked to keep cops on the street and increase funding for law enforcement efforts. For example, he has fought to continue funding for the COPS program, which provides critical grants to local communities to put and keep more cops on the street. The Bush Administration repeatedly tried to eliminate the COPS program, but Senator Lautenberg fought these efforts. Senator Lautenberg also pushed to enact a major crime law that put 100,000 more cops on the street and led to an eight-year drop in crime nationwide.
Reducing Recidivism by Criminals
The more opportunities and assistance available, the less likely it is that individuals will repeat crimes in the future. Recognizing this, Senator Lautenberg cosponsored and worked to enact the Second Chance Act, now law, to help prisoners who have completed their sentences re-enter society by increasing access to drug treatment programs, encouraging states to reunite families and providing grants to give prisoners job skills while behind bars. He has also cosponsored legislation to fight the scourge of gangs, and has directed millions of dollars in federal funds to New Jersey programs that help prisoners reintegrate into the community and keep young people from turning to gangs and crime.