Cease Fire is founded on the premise that the first step to reduce firearms death and injury in America is to recognize firearms for what they are: inherently dangerous consumer products. Only with this recognition can a comprehensive regulatory approach to firearms similar to those which exist for virtually all other inherently dangerous consumer products be created.
Cease Fire has two goals. The first is to reshape the public’s perception of firearms violence. To the public and most policymakers, gun violence is solely a “crime” issue to be solved by focusing on criminal access to firearms and punishment for criminal use. Cease Fire shifts the focus toward an understanding of firearms violence as a public-health crisis of which crime is merely the most visible aspect.
The second goal of Cease Fire is to introduce into public debate a comprehensive, effective legislative framework to regulate firearms in a manner similar to that currently applied to other inherently dangerous consumer products.
Like many products commonly found in American homes such as prescription drugs, insecticides, and household chemicals, guns are inherently dangerous. They cannot perform the function for which they were designed without presenting some risk of injury to the user or bystanders. However, unlike other inherently dangerous consumer products, firearms are virtually unregulated. No federal agency is empowered to ensure that guns manufactured and sold are safe for their intended use. Moreover, no federal entity has the authority to prohibit the manufacture or sale of existing or new firearms technology that poses an unreasonable threat to public safety. Although the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) has limited authority to regulate commerce in firearms and ammunition, it has virtually no authority to regulate firearm safety.
The result is an industry with virtual carte blanche to manufacture any product. In the wake of the handgun sales slump of the 1980s it has moved to take advantage of this unique situation with a newfound focus on firepower and technology. The result has been: assault firearms; a switch from six-shot revolvers to high-capacity semi-automatic pistols, including a new generation of high-caliber, inexpensive Saturday Night Special handguns; new anti-personnel ammunition types; and such high-tech additions as integral laser sights.
Cease Fire contains model legislation, “The Firearms Safety and Violence Prevention Act,” designed to expand the powers of the Secretary of Treasury to include regulation of the manufacture, distribution and sale of firearms and ammunition and to expand the jurisdiction of the Treasury Department to include firearm products and non-powder firearms. In addition to granting the Treasury health and safety powers (such as standard-setting and recall capability), it also includes: a ban on assault weapons; a ban on weapons regulated under the National Firearms Act (NFA) such as silencers, hand grenades, and land mines; and a handgun phase-out–the future manufacture and sale of new handguns would be prohibited. Currently possessed handguns would be required to be surrendered upon the owner’s death. Traditional hunting rifles and shotguns would remain available.
In the wake of record firearms violence and heightened public concern, America has a fresh opportunity to reshape the gun violence debate, involve new voices and organizations, and abandon the tired cliches and dicta that have dominated it to date. Cease Fire is the first step in this process.